Feds offer Long Draw plan
BY TREVOR HUGHES, for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Original article found here: http://www.coloradoan.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080407/NEWS01/804070329/1002/CUSTOMERSERVICE02
Federal officials are proposing to kill off invasive fish and restock streams with native trout above Long Draw Reservoir and in parts of Rocky Mountain National Park as part of plans to keep the reservoir open.
The 10,800-acre-foot reservoir, about 50 miles up the Poudre Canyon, supplies water to Front Range cities and towns. The way it operates was criticized by Trout Unlimited, which in 2004 sued to force changes.
The U.S. Forest Service, upon whose land the reservoir sits, is proposing changes in response to the suit.
But the proposal now up for public comment lacks the major request made by Trout Unlimited: Release water during the winter.
Forest Service officials in their draft Environmental Impact Statement said releasing winter water requires plowing a long dirt access road that would endanger workers on the icy dam and create the risk that snowmobilers would sneak down the plowed road into the adjacent Rawah Wilderness.
"Alternative 3 would have no change to aquatic habitats below the dam but would be of significant benefit to federal and state efforts for restoration of native trout," the Forest Service said of its preferred alternative.
"This alternative would not require any change in the current operations of the reservoir."
Instead of looking solely at the water downstream of the reservoir, the Forest Service is considering ways to mitigate the reservoir's impact upstream.
The reservoir stores up spring runoff, then releases it during the summer and fall. No water is released in the winter, which means the stream below the dam dries up or freezes.
Kenneth Eis, president of Rocky Mountain Flycasters, the local Trout Unlimited chapter, said he and other anglers continue to discuss the situation with the Forest Service and the owners of Long Draw.
"We're looking for other alternatives," Eis said. "From our perspective, we don't own the water. The people who own the water get the beneficial use from it."
The Forest Service is required to balance the rights of the water's owners while "minimizing" damage to streams.
Long Draw is owned by the Fort Collins-based Water Supply and Storage Company. The city of Thornton also owns shares in the ditch company and has long-term plans to pipe water south for municipal use.
Phil Cafaro, a longtime Sierra Club member and stream-health advocate, applauded the Forest Service's recommendation.
"We all know there are all kinds of demands people make on water," said Cafaro, a Colorado State University philosophy professor. "It's nice when we try to pay attention to keeping enough water in the streams for nature's purpose."
The Forest Service is expected to make a final decision this summer, after considering public comments.
Long Draw was completed in 1929. The reservoir was later enlarged and the dam rebuilt in 1974. The reservoir stores water imported from the Colorado River Basin by the Grand Ditch. It also stores water from La Poudre Pass Creek, a tributary of the Cache la Poudre River.
The Forest Service issued a special permit for Long Draw in 1978. The permit expired in 1991 but was extended to 1994.
In 1994, following an environmental impact study, the Forest Service issued a plan that allowed Water Supply and Storage to operate Long Draw without providing bypass flows to La Poudre Pass Creek below the dam. Under the 1994 plan, the Greeley-owned Barnes Meadow reservoir releases water to the Poudre in the winter.
Trout Unlimited sued, claiming the Forest Service should have required a bypass flow from Long Draw as a condition of use and that not requiring one would harm fish and wildlife in the Poudre basin.
A judge in April 2004 reversed the Forest Service's decision and told the agency to rewrite the permit.