Den­ver Wa­ter grap­ples with Fraser River

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Nathaniel Mi­nor

cen­ten­nial» Colorado’s econ­omy de­pends on wa­ter: where it is, where the peo­ple who need it live and work, who has rights to it. Fights over those needs are a core part of the state’s his­tory, and they tend to fol­low a pat­tern.

So in some ways, the fight over the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County is fa­mil­iar.

Den­ver Wa­ter holds un­used wa­ter rights on the river, which starts in the shadow of Berthoud Pass and cour­ses down the western side of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide past Win­ter Park, Fraser and Taber­nash to join the Colorado River out­side of Granby.

The agency, look­ing at the boom­ing pop­u­la­tion and econ­omy in Den­ver, now wants to ex­er­cise those rights. That means tak­ing more wa­ter from the river, pip­ing it un­der the In­dian Peaks and send­ing it into Gross Reser­voir, near Boul­der.

Some con­ser­va­tion­ists and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are cry­ing foul, say­ing that the river has been over­taxed (about 60 per­cent of its ex­ist­ing flow is di­verted to slake Den­ver’s grow­ing thirst) and it’s time to let the river alone.

But the fight’s pat­tern is tak­ing some un­fa­mil­iar twists and turns. In­flu­en­tial groups such as Trout Un­lim­ited and Amer­i­can Rivers, which his­tor­i­cally have fought di­ver­sion projects, sup­port this one. In ex­change, Den­ver Wa­ter says it will help pro­tect and en­hance what’s left of the Fraser River.

That com­pro­mise has frac­tured tra­di­tional lines in Colorado’s con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy com­mu­nity and fos­tered new al­liances. While these or­ga­ni­za­tions more or less agree on their ul­ti­mate goal — to pro­tect and re­store the en­vi­ron­ment — the strate­gies they use are very dif­fer­ent. The big ques­tion that di­vides them: When to com­pro­mise?

Decades ago, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists were not at the top of the list of Den­ver Wa­ter’s con­cerns when it would try to build dams and add ca­pac­ity. In the 1980s, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups pushed back on a huge pro­posed dam called Two Forks.

“(Den­ver Wa­ter) told us in so many words: ‘We’re the ex­perts. You’re lit­tle en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. Get out of the way,’ ” Dan Luecke, then head of the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund’s Rocky Moun­tain of­fice, told the High Coun­try News in 2000.

Then, in 1990, an EPA veto tor­pe­doed the project at the last minute.

“That was re­ally a turn­ing point for our or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Kevin Urie, a sci­en­tist who has worked for Den­ver Wa­ter for nearly 30 years. “I think we re­al­ized with the veto of Two Forks that we needed to think about things dif­fer­ently.”

He be­lieves that al­though Den­ver Wa­ter has long taken en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts into con­sid­er­a­tion with its plans, it didn’t en­gage with lo­cal stake­hold­ers — such as con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and Western Slope gov­ern­ments — un­til af­ter the Two Forks project died.

There’s a de­mo­graphic change un­der­way as well: Many of the Den­ver area’s new res­i­dents also want to play in Western Slope rivers on the week­ends. That has pushed Den­ver Wa­ter lead­er­ship to put a larger em­pha­sis on en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship, Urie said.

But all those new res­i­dents still need wa­ter.

Den­ver Wa­ter de­liv­ers wa­ter to about 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple across the metro area, about dou­ble what it did 60 years ago. Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have kept over­all de­mand rel­a­tively low in re­cent years. But with more peo­ple mov­ing to Den­ver every day, Den­ver Wa­ter ex­pects its de­mand to rise 37 per­cent by 2032 from 2002 lev­els.

The Fraser River is key to Den­ver Wa­ter’s plan to head off a short­fall in the rel­a­tively near fu­ture. The agency wants to di­vert half of the re­main­ing flows from the Fraser and its trib­u­taries through the Mof­fat Tun­nel to Gross Reser­voir near Boul­der. It would be treated at the agency’s plant in Lake­wood and de­liv­ered to cus­tomers across the metro area.

The agency ex­pects to have all of its nec­es­sary per­mits by 2018, and con­struc­tion could be­gin in 2019 or 2020. But to get those per­mits, Den­ver Wa­ter has agreed to be part of a group that in­cludes Grand County of­fi­cials and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists called “Learn­ing by Do­ing.” These dif­fer­ent play­ers are of­ten at odds when it comes to wa­ter is­sues.

Urie said Den­ver Wa­ter’s par­tic­i­pa­tion shows its de­sire to do right by the en­vi­ron­ment and lo­cal stake­hold­ers. It has helped fund an am­bi­tious project that will en­gi­neer the Fraser River’s flow on a nearly mile-long stretch be­tween Fraser and Taber­nash, squeez­ing it to make it nar­rower, deeper and colder — and thus health­ier.

But is that what’s best for the river? Urie thought about that ques­tion for a minute, and then chose his words care­fully: “Clearly the sys­tem would be bet­ter if we weren’t us­ing the wa­ter re­sources for other uses. But that’s not the sce­nario we are deal­ing with,” Urie said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.