By now, you likely have heard about the historic agreement between Denver Water and a number of Western Slope water and governmental entities. I wanted to share with you some perspective on what this deal means for the Upper Colorado River watershed.
For decades, large water diversions to the Front Range have depleted the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers, damaging fish populations and critical wildlife habitat. TU has sounded the alarm that the Upper Colorado River is on the verge of ecological collapse. The new agreement is a great step forward and offers promise for the future - but it addresses only a part of the problems facing the Colorado and its tributaries, and we still have much work ahead of us if we hope to defend our state's namesake river and its gold medal fisheries.
Today, we can celebrate good news for the Colorado River. Denver Water and a broad group of west slope local governments and water districts have entered into a major agreement that will provide resources to benefit the struggling Colorado River headwaters and set a more collaborative approach for future water management and development.
The agreement includes a number of important provisions in terms of river conservation:
- Future water projects using Denver's facilities (notably the Moffat and Roberts tunnels) will require approval from the west slope - they will need to address concerns on both sides of the Continental Divide.
- Safeguards are included for the Shoshone water right, which helps keep year-round flows in the Upper Colorado.
- Denver agrees to provide 1,000 acre-feet per year of water to help address low flow concerns in both the Fraser and Williams Fork systems.
- Denver will provide $2 million to assist with river habitat restoration.
- Water and funds (including an additional $2 million) will be managed through a partnership effort designed to adapt to changing conditions, called "Learning by Doing." Notably, TU is the sole conservation organization that has been included in the management committee for Learning by Doing.
These are significant new tools to help protect the Colorado River's future and to address some of the past impacts that have put it at risk, and Denver Water and key west slope players including Grand County and the Colorado River Water Conservation District deserve great credit for crafting this agreement.
But our work is far from over.
There are also vital issues that are not addressed by the agreement. The deal does not include mitigation to offset the future impacts of Denver's currently-proposed Moffat Firming project, which will draw another 15,000 acre-feet yearly from the Colorado headwaters. The Wildlife Commission is currently reviewing the mitigation plan for this project - and TU will continue to work for the necessary river protections in the mitigation plan.
Perhaps even more notably, the agreement addresses only Denver Water's facilities. It does not include the single largest user of Upper Colorado River water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which draws Colorado River water through the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects, and is proposing to take another 30,000 acre-feet per year through its new Windy Gap Firming Project.
As you can see, our work in defending the Colorado River has just begun. TU will continue to fight for mitigation from both the Moffat and Windy Gap Firming projects, and we will work to get the Northern District to step up to the plate in addressing its impacts to the Colorado. And of course, we will work constructively with Denver and the West Slope to maximize the benefits of the new "Learning by Doing" effort. Your membership and support helps make these efforts possible.
To get a feel for the challenges facing the Colorado headwaters, I encourage you to take a look at this video, "Tapped Out," developed by Trout Unlimited and our Colorado River Headwaters Chapter.
Thank you for helping us continue the fight to defend our state's "Home Waters" and ensuring that the mighty Colorado will be part of our outdoor heritage for generations to come.
Executive Director, Colorado Trout Unlimited