Denver water project draws ire | SkyHiNews.com

Denver water project draws ire

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News | Sky-Hi Daily News

For some, three minutes wasn’t nearly enough.

Grand County’s foremost water advocate Kirk Klancke, for one, could have used more time to outline points he’s been repeating at community meetings with the aim to get the word out about a possible Moffat Firming Project proposed by the state’s largest water-delivery utility, Denver Water.

Klancke took the podium Wednesday night at the Inn at SilverCreek in Granby where official comments on the draft EIS were being taken and outlined the dire need for flushing flows for first-aid treatment of the Fraser River and a plea for more time to review the 2000-page draft “environmental impact statement” document.

The Moffat Firming Project proposal by Denver Water opens the utility to public scrutiny as it works to create more storage of West Slope river water to remedy vulnerabilities in its system and to secure water for future drought seasons.

One-by-one at Wednesday’s meeting in Granby, Grand County citizens rose to comment on the proposal and question the actual water needs of the Front Range population.

Although as many as 200 citizens filled the room, a little more than 15 percent of the crowed voiced their concerns at the mic.

Many picked up where Klancke left off.

“If we don’t draw the line here, where are we going to draw it?” asked Mara Kohler of Kremmling. “How can we protect the rivers that sustain us, if we don’t sustain them?”

“There needs to be a massive education campaign in the Front Range and Denver,” said Randy Piper of Fraser during his three minutes, “educating them as to the dire circumstances we have. Tourism is a tremendous revenue-generator in this state. The people who come here don’t come to Denver to take long hot showers and run barefoot through the lawns. They come here to the mountains. The bottom line is: We need to conserve, not take more.”

Comments were directed to the meeting facilitator, Scott Franklin of the Denver division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency checking the methodology and modeling of Denver’s draft environmental impact statement in conformance with National Environmental Protection Agency protocol. The Corps’ objective, according to Franklin’s statements, is to keep in check “the national concern and protection of limited resources balanced against detriments.”

“If you had the opportunity to live with a beautiful river in your backyard, wouldn’t you fight to save every stinkin’ drop of water in that river?” asked Gary Redfield, directing his rhetorical question to Franklin. “This idea to kill the Fraser River for (Denver’s) future growth is the worst idea I have ever heard.”

He suggested reducing the size of lawns on the Front Range to 200 square-feet per household, thereby significantly reducing the amount of water used. “It would be just about enough to lay on it,” he said.

Denver Water proposes to add another 18,000 acre feet to its delivery system, water that would be sourced from absolute water rights it has on the Fraser River and its tributaries. As of now, Denver Water can only conditionally store that extra water, which in the draft EIS it claims it would only take during average and wet years, by sending it through the existing Moffat Tunnel to South Boulder Creek, where it would end up in Gross Reservoir near Boulder. To store the extra water, Denver would need to raise its dam by 125 feet.

This alternative was selected among five from an original 300 solutions proposed, 75 of them consisting of reservoirs proposed for Grand County, then nixed for reasons ranging from lack of water access to bedrock to other environmental road blocks.

From 2008 estimates, the chosen alternative to improve the system is projected to cost about $225 million.

At a time in Colorado water history triggered by this firming project and another simultaneously coming from the Northern Water Conservancy District, West Slope concern for the resource encompasses the Fraser River – and beyond.

“This project makes no mention of the horrendous degradation of the William’s Fork River,” commented Ray Miller of Grand Lake, a 30-year resident and former ranger. “And the Colorado River is over-allocated. This profound alteration of this watershed has been institutionalized so long, East Slope interests have come to (view) it as a given. It’s been going on so long, they’ve lost sight of how ecologically viable this watershed is in its natural state … The benefits of diversion pale in comparison to the benefits of sustaining this ecological system.”

For others, the spotlight of degradation was directed toward Grand Lake.

“If anyone wants to know, Grand Lake is degrading at a rapid rate, and it’s frightening to me,” said Pat Raney, Grand Lake shoreline owner who has been keeping track of the lake’s clarity for longer than a decade. Raney was one of many, including Grand Lake’s mayor, who voiced concerns about impacts to the lake, which are not mentioned in the Moffat draft EIS.

“Grand Lake must be part of the EIS study because the way systems are working now, it’s all inter-connected,” she said.

“That’s an issue we had not heard before,” said Denver Water’s Director of Planning David Little, after the meeting.

“It’s always been ‘Windy Gap and Grand Lake.'” he said.

“I appreciate the passion of the people and the comments they made,” Little said, following a nearly two-hour comment period that criticized Denver Water for its lack of conservation, its waste of water through aging water lines and its ill-need of more water for citizens that grow green lawns on desert plains.

“It’s a very hard issue and one with a hard solution,” Little said.

The Denver water public utility supplies water without profit, Little said – a correction to a common misnomer. And although conservation of water is encouraged through the utility’s tiered rate structure, rebate programs, educational campaigns, waste enforcement and goals of reducing water use by 22 percent by 2016 at a price of $100 million, Little and Denver Water’s Manager of Water Conservation Melissa Elliott said the utility can “always do better.”

But restricting residents from growing Kentucky Bluegrass lawns, they said, is a “bigger issue than just Denver Water.”

“That’s a state-wide discussion about what we’re going to do away with, and where we’re going to build,” he said. Ultimately, it’s up to the citizenry to influence city and state politics regarding future water uses.

“That political discussion needs to take place with our representatives. There’s a lot of passion on both sides of it.”

In response to comments about Denver Water’s infrastructure, Little said Denver Water’s leak detection program puts Denver Water at one of the lowest utility leakage rates in the U.S., at 1 percent or less.

And, the utility plans to spend $1.3 billion over the next 10 years on capital rehabilitation projects.

Referring to ongoing negotiations between Denver Water, Northern and Grand County that seek to create enhancements for the river, in keeping with Grand County’s Stream Management Plan, Little said: “We’re trying very hard to figure out a way to make tomorrow better than today.”

County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, in her three minutes before the Corps, projected optimism that the river may be better off because of ensuing river enhancements that may take place because of the two proposed firming projects.

“I want to remind everyone here, and it’s been a concern of the county’s from day one, the “no action” alternative will take more water at times than some of the action alternatives they have proposed. We have to say no to a ‘no action’ alternative,” she said.

“The commissioners are at the table, in negotiations, that in my history with the county, we’ve never been able to have.”

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


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.