Opinion: Colorado River Cooperative Agreement – is it working?
June 4, 2013
When the Grand County Board of County Commissioners entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 17 West Slope parties, there was praise as well as criticism and even some distrust from citizens who believed that Denver Water had no intention of adhering to the agreement.
As your Commissioners, we believe it is important to let you know the status of the agreement and how the agreement is already benefitting the county.
In the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water commits to providing environmental enhancements to address existing flow and temperature concerns throughout Grand County. It is important to note that the enhancements contained in the Cooperative Agreement are not a substitute for mitigation for the Gross Reservoir Enlargement Project (Moffat Project), as the agreement clearly states. Grand County continues to advocate in the federal permitting process for complete mitigation for all impacts caused by the Moffat Project.
The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not yet been signed by all parties, awaiting federal agency sign-off on allied agreements. Final signatures and full execution is expected this summer. However, even though the Cooperative Agreement has not been fully executed and the Moffat Project is not yet permitted, let alone built, Denver Water voluntarily implemented fundamental and critical components of the agreement last year and again this spring providing more water for county streams than would have been present without the agreement.
Denver Water contacted Grand County officials to determine how to maximize benefit to Grand County of bypassed water. In short, instead of the historical practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water is bypassing water for the benefit of the environment and Grand County water users. This benefit amounted to about 1,500 acre-feet of water that Denver Water gave back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver in 2012. According to the municipal water and wastewater providers in the Fraser Valley, this additional water made a huge benefit last year to stream flow and stream temperatures, as well as operations of water and wastewater facilities.
Again this year, Denver Water instituted drought restrictions in April, which meant they had the right to reduce the flows in the Fraser River. Despite grave concerns about their water supply — overall reservoir storage was below 2002 levels and early projections showed reservoirs may not fill this season — Denver Water contacted us to discuss the bypass flows and the best way to work with Grand County to maximize water available for the county in 2013.
This example of cooperation and communication is what was envisioned when Grand County entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water. The relationship forged through this agreement is bearing fruit for Grand County even though the agreement is not officially in place.
As your Commissioners, we remain committed to making sure the best interests of the county, the river and our environment are served.