Details of Colorado River Cooperative Agreement
March 23, 2016
The development of the long awaited Gross Reservoir Expansion Project took another step forward last week after a judge with the state water court officially approved an agreement between Grand County and Denver Water.
The decree signed by the court last week approves certain details of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), including aspects detailing Denver Water's obligation to release 2,000 acre-feet of water between the Colorado River and tributaries of the Fraser River.
The releases would come from Denver Water's Moffat Collection System in the Fraser Valley and Williams Fork Reservoir, along the Colorado. The 2,000 acre-feet of water releases would be contingent upon the completion of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
A press release issued by Denver Water on Tuesday March 22 states, "once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is complete, Denver Water will be able to provide more water for county streams by delivering water to the Fraser River Basin at diversion points along its system, and by releasing water from Williams Fork Reservoir to the Colorado River."
Along with the 2,000 acre-feet of water releases for the Colorado and Fraser Rivers Denver Water has also agreed to provide delivery of 375 acre-feet of water to various Grand County water users for municipal purposes and for snow making.
As part of the larger CRCA Denver Water has also agreed to pay $11 million for numerous projects in Grand County; some projects already being implemented include the Berthoud Pass sediment pond and funding for the adaptive management group Learning By Doing. Under the CRCA Denver Water also agrees not to undertake any future water development activities in Grand County without prior approval of Grand County and the Colorado River District.
Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead spoke positively of the recent court decree and of the CRCA in a statement released earlier this week. "This decree is another step in ensuring that we are prepared to fully implement the CRCA conditions as they become effective," Lochhead stated. "In only a few short years since the CRCA went into effect, we're already seeing that through collaboration, we can help improve the health of the Fraser and Colorado rivers."
GRAND COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke discussed the importance of agreements like the CRCA and how they represent a new paradigm in water relations. "I think this is an example of the kind of new spirit of cooperation that exists between Grand County and some of the east slope users like Denver Water," Linke said. "Ten or 12 years ago it was basically just stare downs when you got everybody in the room. I think this is one of the success stories that have come out of the CRCA from Grand County's perspective."
Grand County contract employee for water issues, and former Grand County Manager, Lurline Underbrink Curran discussed the importance of the approval. "It (the decree) legally allows for us to use the water as we intended to do," Curran said. "It was a really good deal and is essential to implementation of the CRCA." Curran closed by explaining that demonstrates, "our cooperative efforts are working like we all intended it too."
For their part in the CRCA Grand County, and the other counties and communities of the Western Slope who entered into the agreement, have agreed not to contest the development of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project along with numerous other details.
The decree by the court maintains the legality of the CRCA and specific details within the cooperative agreement that have become a lynchpin for water issues in the high country. The CRCA has helped entities such as Denver Water and Grand County come together to develop solutions such as the adaptive management group Learning By Doing in coordination rather than through litigation.
Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime county resident expressed his excitement about the environmental impacts that will result from 2,000 acre-feet of water releases in Middle Park. "From what I know it is a giant step forward for the Fraser and upper Colorado Rivers," said Klancke. "I'm excited about using this water for temperature mitigation. Last summer we were experimenting with water from Denver Water. We released 500 acre-feet, 300 of which went into Ranch Creek. Ranch Creek had the coolest temperatures I can remember. Now we have 1,000 acre-feet to go to the Fraser Valley and 1,000 coming from the Williams Fork."
Assuming Denver Water receives final approval of their permits for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project the 2,000 acre-feet of water releases provided by Denver Water for Grand County will be administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) through their Instream Flow Program, which seeks to improve the natural environments of rivers and streams.
James Eklund, director of the CWCB, issued a statement with the Denver Water press release about the recent decree. "The CWCB is extremely pleased to be able to work with Grand County and Denver Water to implement this important agreement, Eklund stated. "This is a great example of how effective the state's Instream Flow Program can be in the context of multipurpose projects."
The implementation of much of the CRCA, and specifically the 2,000 acre-feet of water releases planned for Grand County, could see a snag though if Denver Water cannot acquire the permits needed to construct the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. The municipal water provider is currently awaiting approval of two permits; one from the Army Corps of Engineers and a second from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a hydropower license. On their Web site Denver Water's timeline for the project estimates a construction start date sometime in 2017.