Agreeing to adequate mitigation plans would be a way for Denver Water to live up to its recent statements that that it has acknowledged the impacts of its operations on West Slope streams and is committed to addressing those impacts, said Mely Whiting, with TU’s Colorado Water Project.
“We think what we’re asking for is pretty reasonable,” Whiting said. “This is the only chance we’re going get to address some of these impacts. We need to have an insurance policy,” she added.
Whiting said the environmental studies for the Moffat and Windy Gap projects dealt with some of the anticipated impacts in a speculative way, and that there’s no way of knowing exactly how the increased diversions — planned during the peak flow season — will play out.
If the money currently earmarked toward enhancements is sufficient, great. But if not, there needs to be a pot of money in reserve to do the needed work, she said.
Specifically, Trout Unlimited said that significant restoration work and monitoring will be needed to ensure healthy aquatic ecosystems on the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. The group estimates that it will cost about $14 million for the needed work, yet only a fraction of that funding is included in the mitigation plans.
The group will also push to include specific monitoring plans to gather the scientific data that’s needed to make adaptive management work. River temperatures, fish populations and river flows have to be tracked carefully and on an ongoing basis, requiring a sustained commitment to science.
Trout Unlimited also wants the Front Range utilities to make a commitment to stop diversions when the water gets too warm or flows drop too low. Removing too much water from the river during runoff or during critical hot summer months raises stream temperatures and eliminates flushing flows that are needed to keep river ecosystems alive.
If flushing flows are not occurring or if temperatures rise above state standards, fish can die. Water providers need to make a commitment to stop diversions when stream temperatures approach state standards or if flushing flows are not occurring in accordance with the community-led Grand County Stream Management Plan. These commitments, combined with ongoing monitoring, are what is referred to by the concept of ‘Adaptive Management.’