summit daily news
summit daily news
Colorado hunting, fishing, bird- watching and other environment groups rallied Friday to oppose federal legislation that they say would hurt Western economies and natural resources.
The legislation — a spending bill pushed by House Republicans and up for a full House vote next week — would allow uranium mining on public lands near the Grand Canyon, limit the government’s ability to set standards for controlling greenhouse-gas pollution and grant exemptions from laws to protect air and water. It would cut $2.1 billion from Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior programs that heavily affect Western states.
“What we have here is a recipe of toxic ingredients that’ll make for a very foul stew,” Colorado Wildlife Federation director Suzanne O’Neill said at the event in central Denver.
Colorado Trout Unlimited president Sinjin Eberle said the bill would weaken protection for rivers and landscapes, including the Black Canyon, just when they need greater protection. “This is a giveaway of our great outdoors,” he said.
Supporters of the bill have targeted the EPA, in particular, accusing the agency of regulatory zeal that kills jobs. They contend the legislation is necessary to reduce spending, increase certainty for companies and encourage creation of jobs.
Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million said Friday he is terminating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental review of the Regional Watershed Supply Project and transferring that review to another federal agency that regulates hydropower projects.
The agency switch could reduce the completion time for the project’s environmental impact statement, or EIS, and permitting from more than seven years to about 2½ years, he said.
“I think it’s a joke,” said Drew Peternell, Colorado director for Trout Unlimited, a sportsmen’s group that vehemently opposes the pipeline project. “He’s venue shopping. He’s looking for a better venue, one that will be faster. He’s going to run into a brick wall either way. The EIS conducted by FERC is going to be just as rigorous as the one the Army Corps would have conducted.”
Peternell said the pipeline would be the most expensive and one of the most environmentally damaging water projects ever built in Colorado, adding that the energy requirements for pumping the water over the Continental Divide will be greater than the hydropower the water will generate as it tumbles to the Front Range urban corridor.
“It’s going to have huge impacts on the Green River, which is a world-class trout fishery,” Peternell said. “Those impacts are of real concern to sportsmen — impacts we don’t think can be mitigated.”
“Both of these (water utilities) wrote an environmental statement that said there would be no impacts,” said Klancke, who also serves as the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “But the third-grade class at Fraser Elementary can tell you what happens when you take 80 percent of a river.”
Despite the fact that the two mitigation plans unanimously were approved by the Wildlife Commission, some environmental groups argue that they don’t go far enough to protect the Colorado River headwaters.
Mely Whiting, senior attorney with Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the plans don’t adequately address stream temperature problems and flushing flows. When the mountain snowpack begins to melt in the late spring and early summer, the influx of water “flushes” the rivers, scraping sediment off the streambed and, in some years, overflowing the banks and recharging adjacent wetlands.
Because both of the new projects plan to draw water during the periods of high runoff, Whiting said the rivers are being robbed of the critical flush. When flows stay low throughout the summer, the sediment builds up on the bottom of the rivers and destroys the habitat used by aquatic insects. The low flows also increase the danger that stream temperatures will climb higher earlier in the summer.
Trout Unlimited heartily supports the cutthroat restoration plan, Ty Churchwell, the organization’s backcountry coordinator, said Tuesday.
“Few locations are as perfect for such a program as the headwaters of Hermosa Creek,” Churchwell said. “It’s important to note that the mainstem of Hermosa Creek below Hotel Draw will remain a multispecies, catch-and-keep fishery for 20-plus miles to its confluence with the Animas River.”
Already the Front Range takes about 60 percent of the water that originates in the upper Colorado River basin, draining Grand County to the point that many of its once pristine streams now run dry.
The damage is severe. State biologists have recorded alarming declines in fish, insects and aquatic life. In late summer, dozens of clear streams like Jim Creek are reduced to rust-tinted trickles.
And now, Front Range water providers are planning to bleed the Colorado River some more.
Two proposed water-diversion projects — Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel expansion project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap firming project — threaten to push the Colorado and Fraser Rivers and their tributaries past the tipping point. Combined, the projects could leave as little as 25 percent of native upper Colorado River water on the Western Slope.
The rivers and streams of the upper Colorado basin are in critical condition. Unless we act now to protect them from future diversions, they could be flat-lined.
While we have had reasons for optimism recently in the battle to save our rivers, we have also recently received a hard blow from the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
On June 9, the Commission voted to approve the mitigation plans for Denver Water’s (Moffat Firming) and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s (Windy Gap Firming) diversion projects despite comments from commissioners who felt that way too little mitigation is being offered.
The support for these mitigation plans is a statement from the Wildlife Commission that this should be the state’s official position on these projects. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Grand County residents to save our rivers, this decision was made with stacks of written comment on the commissioners’ table and several Grand County residents at the meeting speaking on behalf of the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers.
It was very apparent at the June 9 meeting that politics, not science, is being used to decide the fate of these rivers.