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COMMISSION LEARNS OF WATER PROJECT IMPACTS
12/11/2010
Credit:
CDOW Press Release
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A Denver Water proposal to increase the amount of water being diverted to the Front Range would impact five rivers on both sides of the Continental Divide, according to a report presented to the Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday.

Denver Water's Moffat Firming project would increase the amount of water imported to the Front Range from the Fraser and Williams Fork drainages by 18,000-acre feet, providing a more reliable supply for the utility's 1.3 million customers. Under state law, the Wildlife Commission will be asked to review and comment on a plan that Denver Water will develop to mitigate impacts of the project, which will then be forwarded to the Federal permitting agency.

"A healthy Colorado River is critically important to the future of this state," said Tim Glenn, chairman of the Wildlife Commission. "Water projects like this have to be done right if we're going to have a healthy river in the future."

The commission also received a presentation on the Division of Wildlife's marketing, recruitment and retention efforts, an update on the status of a potential wolverine reintroduction project and reviewed draft Habitat Partnership Program management plans for South Park and the North Fork of the Gunnison that are designed to reduce conflicts between wildlife and agricultural operations. The meeting was held in the Crowne Plaza at 2886 S. Circle Drive in Colorado Springs.

Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist for the Platte River Basin, told commissioners that Denver Water's Moffat Firming project would result in reduced stream flows and increased temperatures in the Williams Fork, Fraser and Upper Colorado River systems. The lower flows would increase sedimentation in the affected reaches of these rivers, reducing their ability to support aquatic insects and fish life, Kehmeier said.

On the East Slope, the additional diversions would send more water through the Moffat Tunnel, down South Boulder Creek and into an enlarged Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, Kehmeier said. The project would create a larger reservoir for recreation, but longer periods of high flows in South Boulder Creek above Gross Reservoir would reduce its ability to support trout and other aquatic wildlife, he said.

First Assistant Attorney General Tim Monahan explained that state statutes allow the Wildlife Commission to address impacts of Denver Water's new diversions so long as the mitigation is economically reasonable and maintains balance between development and reducing impacts to fish and wildlife resources. The commission can also address the cumulative impacts of this project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District's nearby Windy Gap Firming Project on the Upper Colorado River.


Kehmeier noted that Denver Water could opt to divert an additional 16,000 acre feet, mainly through Roberts Tunnel and South Platte basin through the southern part of its system without getting a new federal permit. That would likely cause significant impacts to Dillon Reservoir and the high-value trout fishery along the South Platte River, Kehmeier said, and it would not give the Wildlife Commission an opportunity to negotiate mitigation for the increased diversions.

Division of Wildlife Director Tom Remington told commissioners that the impending stakeholder meetings offered an opportunity to determine what it is going to take to fix the Colorado river from a technical standpoint, and focusing on how much of that work should be considered mitigation vs. enhancement were premature at this point. Attorney Barbara Greene, representing Grand County, said the county greatly appreciated the Wildlife Commission's focus on the issue and reported that the county was close to an agreement in principle with Denver water regarding impacts from current diversions.

During the morning session, Commissioners received a briefing on the Division's recruitment and retention program, which will include a new marketing initiative in 2011 designed to shore up hunting license sales. During the past three years, the agency has cut its budget to reflect declining revenues from reduced license sales. In coming years, the Division expects to further reduce elk licenses as herds across the state come into objective.

"Our short term goal is to maintain the stability of Colorado's hunting economies and our ability to manage elk and other big game," said DOW Director Tom Remington. "Both of those depend on hunters. The long term and ultimately more important goal is to expand the number of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts in Colorado who value wildlife."

In the fall of 2010, the Division launched a small pilot project using data analysis techniques to identify out-of-state hunters who applied for a license but failed to draw licenses. A marketing effort aimed at these hunters resulted in an 8 percent increase in the purchase of leftover or over-the-counter licenses compared with a control group.

Wildlife Commissioners also received a status report on the Division's investigation of issues surrounding a possible wolverine reintroduction. Species Conservation Coordinator Eric Odell told commissioners that the DOW had scheduled a meeting with stakeholders for Dec. 13 to explore strategies for resolving issues which could arise with federal land management decisions.