Guest column: Front Range doesn’t understand droughts like Grand County does

Dave Troutman
Guest column
The Fraser River flows through Grand County as the snow melts in the spring. Roughly 80% of Grand County’s water is diverted to the Front Range, including Northglenn, whose diversion gates on Berthoud Pass were vandalized the week of June 19.
Ian MacDonald / Sky-Hi News File Photo

One day last week I traveled from Grand County through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road and through the Big Thompson Canyon into Fort Collins.

As I left Grand County, two fires were raging to the south and north of my home. Stage 2 fire restrictions were in place and pre-evacuation notices had been issued to many Grand County homeowners. Grand County and most West Slope counties were in the midst of a drought.

As I traveled through the Big Thompson Canyon, I was surprised to see that flows in the Big Thompson River were similar to what they had been in May. There was certainly no evidence that this waterway had been impacted by a drought.

Arriving in Fort Collins I was greeted with green yards, flourishing gardens, mostly full reservoirs and no indication that any water conservation measures had been requested or implemented. Did they know that most of western Colorado was in a drought?

Seeing this contrast in just a matter of 60 or so miles made me wonder, does the Front Range know that 80% of Grand County’s waters are diverted to the Front Range for their use? Does it even matter to them this same water could have possibly mitigated some of the fire danger that now imperils our homes and forests?

I have heard talk of a drought contingency plan prepared by Denver and Northern Water, Grand County’s main diverters of water. However, based on appearances, this drought plan certainly does not restrict or limit the quantities of water that Front Range homeowners use to irrigate their lawns, golf courses and in many cases driveways and sidewalks.

If Grand County is to prepare for the future and mitigate some of the damages caused by withdrawals by Big Water and Front Range users essentially drying up our headwater streams, Grand County needs to have a Drought Contingency Plan that has teeth. This plan should limit how much of our water goes to the Front Range in times like these. A drought in West Slope counties should trigger mandatory conservation measures on the Front Range.

The issue of Environmental Impact Fees assessed to Front Range users who depend on Grand County and other West Slope counties has been proposed by the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group (UCRWG) and others in Grand County. The funds from the Environmental Impact Fee will help to mitigate some of the damage caused by diverting huge quantities of water to the Front Range. A fee that generates substantial funds for Grand and other West Slope counties could then help to mitigate environmental impacts and as is the case now, be used to mitigate the damage caused by wildfires in our watersheds. Without these fees it is Grand County residents who will pay.

Submitted by Dave Troutman, board member Upper Colorado River Watershed Management Group, a Grand County nonprofit with a mission to educate stakeholders and protect our watersheds. For more,

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