Grand County asked to contribute to fish recovery efforts | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County asked to contribute to fish recovery efforts

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News

Towns and water districts on the West Slope are being asked to each set aside at least $5,000 for fish.

The Colorado River District has taken on the role of fundraising organizer, asking town boards and water districts to contribute money so the West Slope complies to a federal fish recovery program.

A pledge, said Daniel Birch of the Colorado River District to Granby and Grand Lake town boards last week, would help the West Slope meet its first obligation of National Environmental Policy Act permitting. The West Slope and East Slope are sharing the cost of $550,000 as each enters the process.

Colorado River District fundraising on behalf of the West Slope already has raised just more than $200,000 in commitments. The River District approached 40 water users in the Grand Valley into Summit and Eagle counties.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that any depletion of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin would need to be replenished for the health and continuation of four fish species on the brink of extinction: The Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the humpback chub and the bonytail chub.

As part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, East and West Slope diverters committed to supplying 10,825 acre-feet of water in late summer, evenly split among the two regions.

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As a temporary solution, Denver Water has been releasing flows from Williams Fork Reservoir to comply; meanwhile, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has been releasing from Wolford Mountain Reservoir for the West Slope’s share.

By the end of 2009, however, stakeholders must arrive at a more permanent solution mandated in the program.

Negotiations have led to supplying half of the 10,825 acre-feet out of Granby Reservoir sourced from the Northern Water Conservancy District’s Red Top Ditch Shares (about a $17 million solution) for the East Slope’s share. The other half would come out of Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt for the West Slope’s share. The plan also includes using excess storage capacity in the Green Mountain Reservoir.

Contracting with the federal government to have water shepherded from Ruedi to the critical section of the Colorado could cost West Slope water users about $8 million, according to the Colorado River District.

For this reason, the district is working on legislation it plans to introduce to Congress, asking for forgiveness of that cost.

If unsuccessful, Birch explained, that cost could land on the shoulders of West Slope water users in the near future.

Both the Towns of Grand Lake and Granby agreed to consider the $5,000 while crafting next year’s budget, a process starting in August. Grand County Water and Sanitation No.1 and the Winter Park West Water and Sanitation District have also made commitments, according to Birch.

The fish recovery program, he said, affords benefits to all water users in the Upper Colorado by complying to an Endangered Species Act mandate collectively rather than forcing individual water users to find compliance on their own. In other regions of the country, he said, the attempt to balance water uses with fish protections often ends up in “a train wreck” with so many varied water interests. “We’re very fortunate in Colorado,” he said.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.

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