Historic agreement hailed as start of a new collaborative era
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A major water agreement aimed at ending decades of feuding and litigation between the Front Range and the West Slope moved one step closer to completion this week, as Denver Water, Summit County and Grand County representatives inked the deal at a ceremony in Hot Sulphur Springs.
Along with being hailed as a model of collaboration by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the deal also gives all the parties some certainties as to the future management and disposition of the state’s most precious resource.
Against a backdrop of an intensifying mountain drought, Hickenlooper said this year’s dry conditions magnify the need for cooperative solutions and highlight the fragility of the state’s rivers in the face of possible climate change impacts and increasing demand from a growing population.
“Some of our watersheds are reporting the driest conditions in our recorded history … this puts Colorado on a better footing, with more secure water sources both for headwaters counties and Denver,” Hickenlooper said.
Most importantly for Denver Water, Summit and Grand counties agree not to oppose a plan to expand diversions from the West Slope through the Moffat Tunnel Collection System, a project that, in its present form, is still bitterly opposed by conservation and river advocacy groups.
In return, the headwaters counties get some assurances on flows, as well as money for mitigation and enhancements. All the agreement documents are online at the Colorado River District website. Denver Water also agrees not to expand its service area and to increase water recycling and storage for reuse.
More benefits for headwaters counties:
- Denver Water will pay $11 million for projects such as nutrient loading, aquatic habitat, the Berthoud Pass sedimentation pond, Windy Gap pumping costs for environmental purposes and Learning by Doing.
- Denver Water will make available 1,000 acre-‐feet of water each year from its Fraser River Collection System for environmental purposes in Grand County, at times and locations requested by Grand County. This water otherwise would have been diverted to the East Slope. This water will be matched with an additional 1,000 acre-‐feet from Williams Fork Reservoir under specified conditions that also will be released at the request of Grand County.
- Denver Water will limit its existing right to reduce bypass flows to times when it has banned residential lawn watering (estimated to provide 3,000 acre-feet and to manage spills from its Fraser River Collection System to provide environmental benefits.
- Denver Water will provide 250 acre-‐feet of water without charge for use in districts and towns in Summit County.
- Denver Water will use best efforts to maintain the water level of Dillon Reservoir at or above 9,012 feet in elevation between June 18 and Labor Day.
- Denver Water will provide 1,493 acre-‐feet of water to various Summit County water users and ski areas.
- Denver Water agrees not to exercise its existing right to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River during droughts to below the amount of inflow to the reservoir unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its combined service area.
More details in a six-page summary of the deal on our Scribd.com feed.
“This agreement honors the recognition that protecting water resources and tourism in our headwaters counties also protects the entire state of Colorado’s economy,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier.
Read this Summit Voice story for more on the benefits to Summit County.
Despite concerns about additional diversions from the Fraser River, Grand County signed the agreement because its the best that can be done for both sides of the Continental Divide, according to Grand County Comissioner James Newberry. Since there’s no real legal basis for blanket opposition to increased diversions under Colorado water law, a cooperative approach will at least enable some of the money that would otherwide be spent on lawsuits to go toward protecting and enhancing the Fraser and the Colorado River.
“Our goal today was to make sure Grand County is better off, and not rely totally on the permitting process,” Newberry said, referring to the ongoing federal review of the Moffat project. “This is a new way of developing water in Colorado,” Newberry said. “Only through cooperative effort can we do the right thing for the resource.”
But not all issues have been resolved. Key pieces of the puzzle include the operation of Green Mountain reservoir, critical both to Denver Water and the West Slope, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation still needs to approve those terms. And farther downstream, the question of how to manage flows with regard to the Shoshone power plant still hasn’t been answered completely.
The entities also signed on to the “Learning by Doing” process, by which Denver Water, Grand County, the Colorado River District, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District and others will use the flexibility in Denver Water’s water system to manage flows for the benefit of the environment in Grand County.
In addition to today’s signatories, the agreement has been signed by Eagle County, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Eagle Park Reservoir Company. Other West Slope entities are expected to sign in the near future.
Denver Water commissioner Penfield Tate said he hopes the deal marks a new era for the state, with water forming the basis for “vibrant, enduring communities.”
“There’s a better way of doing business than lawsuits … it’s better to have an agreement and certainty,” Tate said, asking all the state’s residents not to take water for granted.
“It doesn’t belong to me or to you, it belongs to the planet; it’s for the entire state … This isn’t a one-shot deal, we’ll be working statewide on an ongoing basis to develop additional supplies and work on reuse and conservation,” Tate concluded.
For the headwaters counties, it’s also important that Denver Water agrees not to pursue any additional water development projects without agreement from the basin of origin.
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