Citizens urged to weigh in on Denver proposal to divert more water from Fraser River
November 29, 2009
Save the Fraser River stickers, posters and informational memorabilia were distributed at two community meetings held recently to advise Grand County citizens about upcoming public meetings, where West Slope views can be voiced about the proposed Moffat Firming project.
An Oct. 30 release of a 2,000-page document outlining possible environmental impacts from the water-delivery project began a 90-day public written and verbal comment period.
River advocates are encouraging citizens to participate to influence measures for protecting Grand County’s waterways.
“Multiple water diversions have pushed the Fraser River to the brink of collapse,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
TU, the Colorado Environmental Coalition and a broad group of conservation organizations warn that a proposal to divert more water from the Fraser, a tributary to the Colorado River, poses a serious risk to the ecological health of the river system.
Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel and other diversions take about 62 percent of native flows in Grand County. Add two more diversion projects currently proposed, and about 72 percent of the Fraser River water produced in Grand County mountains would be diverted.
“That has a big effect on our streams,” said Grand County Commissioner Nancy Stuart at a water community meeting held in Grand Lake.
By firming its rights and storing more water on the Front Range, Denver Water hopes to help resolve water-supply challenges it faces on the Front Range. Denver Water officials claim the utility’s distribution system could run out of water in the north end of its system during a single-dry year.
The Moffat Project proposes raising Gross Dam near Golden by about 125 feet. Gross Reservoir is fed by water diverted from tributaries of the Colorado River and South Boulder Creek, and feeds the north side of Denver Water’s system.
If approved, the Moffat Project would produce 18,000 acre-feet of new supply, enough for about 45,000 households, according to the utility.
One foot deep of water covering the area of a football field is roughly one-acre foot.
“I question Denver’s need for the reservoir enlargement,” Klancke said. Trout Unlimited’s stance is that Denver Water, although credited for having aggressively encouraged conservation programs to its customers, with another 16,000 acre-feet proposed through conservation in its proposal – has not fully explored all modes of conservation.
“They have mostly ignored the largest use of water in their arid environment, which is outdoor lawn watering,” Klancke said. “With over half of their residential water use going to keep Kentucky blue grass thriving in a high-plains desert, Denver has an opportunity to develop large amounts of water without building any new and very costly infrastructure.”
Denver Water has promised a series of measures designed to mitigate and enhance streamflows in Grand County, such as 2,000 acre-feet of additional water, $2 million devoted to improving water quality, and $2 million for stream modifications to improve aquatic habitat, but those promises are not specifically tied to the EIS, according to Trout Unlimited’s take on the document.
“The draft EIS admits some impacts to the Fraser River and must include adequate mitigation, which is not the case in the way that the draft EIS is written,” Klancke said.
Denver water, in statements released this November, said the proposed environmental enhancements still under discussion with Grand County, environmental groups and the cities of Boulder and Lafayette “go far beyond what the corps requires for mitigating impacts by the Moffat Collection Project.”
Klancke said his Trout Unlimited chapter also plans to point out to the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency overseeing the Moffat Project process, potential impacts to natural Grand Lake, which are not reflected in the EIS. Impacts to the lake and the Fraser River are compounded by another firming project proposed nearly simultaneously by the Northern Water Conservancy District, but the draft EIS does not consider both projects combined, Klancke said.
The document also falls short in recognizing the importance of spring high flows.
“A Fraser River without high flows in the spring cannot flush the 9,000 tons of traction sand that the Colorado Department of Transportation dumps on the west side of Berthoud Pass every winter,” Klancke said. “High flows are a vital component to a healthy river. The draft EIS must acknowledge the importance of these high flows.”
Klancke recognizes that reading the 2000-page EIS document (with its comprehensible 48-page executive summary) is a daunting task to be achieved in 90 days amid “Grand County’s three biggest holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and hunting season.” For this reason, Klancke said he for one will be asking for a time extension from the Corps and encourages others to do the same.
If approved, the Moffat Project will take two to three years to design and four years to construct.
“The only influence that any of us has on the future of Colorado’s rivers is to be involved and speak up,” Klancke said. “The draft EIS must include the impacts and mitigation to address the effects of reducing what was once called the ‘Mighty Upper’ to a trickle of its former self.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.