Stakeholders react to ‘endangered’ status for Upper Colorado River |

Stakeholders react to ‘endangered’ status for Upper Colorado River

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado

The Upper Colorado River: Rated the sixth-most endangered?

“We all recognize there’s a problem on the Upper Colorado,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “That’s been our mantra all along.”

But Grand County, he said, is past identifying the problem and is engaged in establishing solutions.

Grand County’s continued negotiations with Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Conservancy District – water providers proposing to divert more from the West Slope to the East Slope – are proving to Newberry, he said, that the utilities agree with the West Slope’s position that “we can do better for the river.”

That’s not to say he’s against American Rivers’ rating.

“Anything that can bring awareness is always good,” he said. “The hard part is how to fix it.”

Grand County is working with stakeholders on “adaptive management solutions,” such as incorporating the county’s stream management plan to help guide future East Slope water operations and securing agreements that bind the big water utilities into provide additional water supplies, especially when most critically needed.

“We’re so close,” Newberry said, adding that any finalization of negotiations will not occur until the Grand County public has the chance to “see what is on the table.”

This negotiating route, he said, is sizing up better than putting the kibosh on diversion proposals altogether.

“Enhancements,” or ways to improve the river, are being worked out with East Slope water providers outside of official National Environmental Policy Act processes.

If Denver and Northern were forced not to do the projects at all, “then the enhancements are also gone and then we’re left with the third most endangered river being the Fraser and the sixth most endangered river being the Upper Colorado, with no way to fix them.”

Denver Water disagrees its proposal could amount to “sapping the life from the Upper Colorado,” as stated in an American Rivers June 2 press release about the river rating.

“We’re working on enhancing stream flows, providing water for wildlife habitats, and working with diverse stakeholders to arrive at a solution related to the Wild and Scenic Act,” said Stacy Chesney, spokesperson for Denver Water.

“From what I’ve read on the American Rivers website, they are about water efficiency and against short-sighted projects. The Moffat Collection System Project is a well thought-out part of Denver Water’s approach to ensuring a reliable water supply for the future. We’re doing it alongside conservation and recycled water, and are working to enhance the environment as well.”

And what is Northern’s take on the American Rivers posting?

“We’re not taking exception to it. We certainly understand there are concerns that are being expressed,” said Northern spokesperson Brian Werner.

But in trying to obtain permits for firming projects, “We think we’ve put a lot on the table over there,” he added, calling possible soon-to-be East and West Slope water agreements “precedent-setting.”

Asked about the attention the American Rivers rating may draw to Northern’s increase-in-diversions request, “We’re trying to educate the public on what the projects are about, so we don’t shy away from that,” Werner said.

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