Colorado wildlife commission to take input on water plans

Impacts to aquatic life, like these larvae in the Fraser River, are at issue at a May 6 Colorado Wildlife Commission meeting in Salida, Colorado.

May 6 Salida hearing critical to finalize wildlife agency’s comments on mitigation plans for new diversions from West Slope to Front Range

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even though Denver Water and the West Slope have agreed in principle to a sweeping deal on future Colorado River water development, the nitty gritty process of evaluating the impacts of projects already on the books continues.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission meets May 6 in Salida to take input on the proposed enlargement of the Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel Collection System and Northern’s Windy Gap firming project. Click here for more information, including links to the mitigation plans.

Denver Water is proposing to firm up the yield from its existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by enlarging Boulder’s Gross Reservoir and diverting additional water from the Fraser, Williams Fork and Blue rivers. Northern is proposing to firm up the yield from its existing water rights in the Upper Colorado River by diverting additional water to the proposed new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Longmont.

Under the April 28 proposed water agreement, West Slope communities agree not to oppose the two projects, which would divert up to 15,000 acre-feet of additional water from the West Slope each year. Both could have potentially significant new impacts on aquatic habitat by taking water during peak spring flows, which are needed to clear out sediment.

“The Wildlife Commission has worked for months with the Division to understand the impacts of these projects to fish and wildlife and how the proponents intend to address these impacts,” Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn said. “The information and testimony we receive in Salida will be critical in our evaluation of the adequacy of these plans.”

The presentations and testimony at the Salida meeting will focus on mitigation plans aimed at addressing those impacts. On Friday morning, Division staff will present an analysis of each mitigation plan, followed by public testimony. The afternoon session will feature an analysis of enhancement plans to address river conditions caused by existing water development, also to be followed by public testimony. The commission will consider this testimony in evaluating each plan.

Under state statute, the Commission’s authority is limited to a review of plans to mitigate impacts from proposed projects. Restoring the river to a past condition is beyond the scope of the project approval process and Wildlife Commission authority. However, Denver and Northern are voluntarily proposing steps to address impacts of existing water development projects to fish and wildlife resources on both sides of the Continental Divide.

Once the Wildlife Commission adopts its final recommendation at its workshop in Grand Junction on June 9, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will have 60 days to affirm or modify it. If the CWCB makes revisions, the Governor will have 60 days to affirm or further modify the recommendation, which then becomes the official state position with regard to mitigation. The final state position will then be transmitted to federal permitting agencies.

Additional information regarding the Wildlife Commission’s review, including links to the mitigation and enhancement plans being offered by Denver Water and Northern, can be found on the Division’s web site at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Water/MoffatWindyGapMitigationProjects/.

During Thursday’s session, the Commission is scheduled to take final action on a regulation prohibiting the hunting or harassment of black bears in their dens and set limited license numbers for deer, elk, pronghorn, bear and moose for the 2011 big game seasons. In addition, the Commission will consider an emergency regulation to lift bag limits for all fish species at Bonny Reservoir, which is expected to be drained this fall as part of a plan to bring Colorado into compliance with the Republican River compact.

The May 5 agenda includes scheduled votes on changes to regulations governing activities on State Wildlife Areas, including a ban on tracer ammunition and armor-piercing rounds, a modification of dog-walking rules at two Loveland-area properties and other changes regarding access and hunting or angling activities on numerous Division-managed properties.

Also on the agenda are presentations on the Division’s Outdoor Discovery Center project in Gunnison, the Salida Natural Resource Center project and an update on the proposed merger between Colorado State Parks and the Division of Wildlife. The commission will be briefed on proposed mitigation for impacts to bighorn sheep from the “Over the River” landscape art project proposed by the artist Christo for the Arkansas River canyon.

In other business, Commissioners will review a proposed letter encouraging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow Colorado to establish new zones and season dates for waterfowl hunting in eastern Colorado that are currently under consideration. Draft regulations allowing restricted waterfowl hunting on two state parks along the Colorado River will also be considered. At James M. Robb Colorado River State Park hunting would be restricted to designated blinds reserved by a reservation system. At Highline Lake State Park, reservations for access to existing blinds would also be required. Discussion on a proposal to increase the daily bag limit for dark geese in the Pacific Flyway portion of the Colorado from three to four birds is also anticipated. Final action on these items is scheduled for the Commission’s July meeting.

Resources:

The complete agenda for the May Wildlife Commission meeting can be found on the Wildlife Commission web page at:http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeCommission/Archives/2011/May52011.htm.

More information on Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System proposal and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project may be found here: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Water/MoffatWindyGapMitigationProjects/.

Written comments on the Denver Water Northern proposals may also be submitted to the Wildlife Commission by email at: wildlife.comm@state.co.us. Hard copies may be submitted to:
Colorado Wildlife Commission
c/o Public Involvement Unit
Colorado Division of Wildlife
6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216

Members of the public who are unable to attend Commission meetings or workshops can listen to the proceedings through a link on the DOW’s website. This opportunity is provided to keep constituents better informed about the development of regulations by the Commission and how they and DOW staff are resolving issues facing Colorado’s wildlife.

To access the live audio feed during the meeting, click on the “listen to live audio” link at the bottom of the Commission webpage at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeCommission/ 
The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor. The Wildlife Commission sets Division of Wildlife regulations and policies for hunting, fishing, watchable wildlife, nongame, threatened and endangered species. The Commission also oversees Division of Wildlife land purchases and property regulations.

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