Wildlife Commission begins water plan reviews

The Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday received Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans from Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that describe the water providers’ proposals for addressing expected impacts from two transmountain diversion projects that would provide more reliable water supplies to the Front Range.
The meeting was held at the Fairfield Center in Meeker.
Under state statute, the commission now has 60 days to evaluate the proposed mitigation and provide a recommendation to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The commission is expected to render its decision at the June Wildlife Commission meeting in Grand Junction. Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn said that during the May meeting in Salida, the commission would offer the public an extended opportunity to comment and provide input on the two mitigation plans as well as two voluntary enhancement plans also being submitted by the water providers. Commissioners have held numerous public and stakeholder meetings on the issue since October.
“We’ve said all along we’re going to take the time to do this right,” said Glenn, who added that he was grateful that Denver and Northern had already incorporated public input from the February release of pre-draft mitigation proposals into the plans presented last week.” And we’re going to allocate plenty of time in Salida to make sure everyone gets heard.”
The mitigation and enhancement plans, as well as other information regarding the projects, are posted on the Moffat and Windy Gap Mitigations projects page on the DOW website. Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is designed to provide 18,000 acre-feet per year of new water supply to firm up the yield from Denver’s existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by enlarging Gross Reservoir near Boulder and diverting additional water from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers.
This project’s likely impacts include reduced stream flows and increased temperatures in the Williams Fork, Fraser and upper Colorado river systems. The lower flows may increase sedimentation in the affected reaches of these rivers and reduce their ability to support aquatic insects and fish life. The lower flows may also reduce the ability of the river channel maintain hydrologic function over the long term.
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. 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. To mitigate likely impacts from the project on the Fraser River and upper Williams Fork River, Denver is proposing to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work.
On the Colorado River, Denver would install two real-time temperature monitoring gauges and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish. East of the Divide, Denver would rebuild the Gross Reservoir Dam larger than necessary to allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water to maintain stream flows during winter months, create new wetlands to replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability to identify impacts from higher flows. Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project is designed to provide 30,000 acre-feet per year of new water supply 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. West of the Divide, impacts could include a decrease of water level in Lake Granby, a reduction in trout habitat in the Colorado River due to lower stream flows and increases in water temperature. There would also likely be a reduction in river flows preferred by rafters and kayakers, with a potential impact on anglers who fish from personal flotation equipment.
Fisheries east of the Continental Divide would benefit from potential development of a new flat-water fishery in the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, though some wetlands and big game habitat would be flooded by the new reservoir. To mitigate impacts from the project on the Upper Colorado River system, Northern is proposing to manage their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and look for ways to improve flushing flows and provide cooler summer water temperatures in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern would contribute to water quality projects to reduce nutrient loading in Shadow Mountain, Lake Granby and Grand Lake. East of the Divide, Northern is proposing to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir. 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 by enhancing current conditions.
The enhancement plans would support the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project, a collaborative plan that is designed to restore a more functional channel system and improve habitat for trout and other important aquatic species between Windy Gap Reservoir and the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area.
With the plans submitted, the Division has 10 days to perform a completeness review of the proposals. When the Wildlife Commission submits its recommendation to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the CWCB will then have 60 days to affirm the Commission’s recommendation as the official state position or modify the recommendation. 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 is then transmitted to the appropriate federal permitting agencies.
The Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor.