Kirk Klancke: Saving Grand County’s rivers
July 1, 2011
While we have had reasons for optimism recently in the battle to save our rivers, we have also recently received a hard blow from the Colorado Wildlife Commission.On June 9, the Commission voted to approve the mitigation plans for Denver Water’s (Moffat Firming) and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s (Windy Gap Firming) diversion projects despite comments from commissioners who felt that way too little mitigation is being offered.The support for these mitigation plans is a statement from the Wildlife Commission that this should be the state’s official position on these projects. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Grand County residents to save our rivers, this decision was made with stacks of written comment on the commissioners’ table and several Grand County residents at the meeting speaking on behalf of the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers.It was very apparent at the June 9 meeting that politics, not science, is being used to decide the fate of these rivers. A mitigation plan that would have addressed the impacts of the Moffat Firming Project taking 20 percent more of the Fraser River during the high flow season was presented by Trout Unlimited and was based on a study by Fly Water. TU was asking for this mitigation:∞ Reduce diversions when stream temperatures approach Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment acute and chronic stream temperature standards. Denver’s mitigation plan did not offer this important stream protection.∞ Two new real-time stream temperature gauges. One gauge to be located on Ranch Creek and one on the Fraser above the confluence with Ranch Creek. Denver agreed to install a gauge on Ranch Creek.∞ Stream monitoring and an adaptive management plan with adjustments made based on the results of the monitoring. Denver is not willing to tie this important mitigation to the permit for their project.∞ The Fly Water study identified $7.1 million dollars of stream restoration work that needed to be done in the Fraser Valley to maintain a healthy ecosystem under the new flow regime of this project. Denver offered $750,000 to be split between the Williams Fork and Fraser River drainages. This money is to be taken out of the enhancement offer and is additional money for the river. ∞ Maintain stream improvements to guarantee a healthy river in the future. Denver Water was not willing to do this. A separate study was done by another environmental organization and their conclusion was that the mitigation being asked for by Trout Unlimited would cost the customers of Denver Water less than $1 per year. What is the Fraser River worth anyway? Is it worth killing our river for the cost of a cup of coffee? Both Denver Water’s Moffat Firming Project and Northern’s Windy Gap Project will be diverting the high flows that are needed for flushing sediment and replenishing the wetlands plants that support 90 percent of the wildlife in Colorado. The mitigation offer from these to diverters that was accepted as Colorado’s official position on these projects will kill more than the rivers, the wetlands plants and the wildlife that depends on this ecosystem.This turn of events is also a direct attack on our economy. Grand County and the state of Colorado depend on the $10 billion tourist industry. Colorado’s West Slope environment is the drive engine for that economy. If the committee responsible for protecting the wildlife that brings tourists to our state has their hands tied by politics, then the politics of money is going to have to speak up.Ken Lund is the head of economic development in Colorado, and Al White is chairman of tourism for Gov. John Hickenlooper. Every business owner in Grand County should let these state officials and the governor know that times are enough for our businesses. It’s not worth damaging our tourist based economy to save the residents of Denver Water $1 per year.How bad does this make Denver Water look when they are willing to risk so much for so little? With a little reason from the right people maybe they will see how painless it can be to have their water supply and protect the environment and the economy in the valleys that supply their water. It appears that they will not willingly do this, so I’m afraid that all of us will be needed to protect our future.Start influencing this process now because it will all be decided soon.Kirk Klancke is a member of the Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited, district manager of the Winter Park Ranch Water & Sanitation District and a longtime advocate for water quality in the Fraser Valley and Grand County.