Water Providers Assist in Renewing Program for Endangered Fish

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by Jim Pokrandt, Communications and Education Specialist, Colorado River District

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A proactive environmental program designed to recover four endangered fish in the Colorado River has prevented the legal and social upheavals involving the Endangered Species Act experienced in other parts of the country while allowing the public to benefit from continued water development for a growing population and agricultural uses.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovering Program employs a tool box of initiatives to aid fish recovery, including the construction of fish ladders at dams, fish screens in irrigation canals, fish hatcheries, water conservation by irrigation companies and the contribution of stored water from reservoirs and water users to support habitat.

One of the agreements between water users and the Recovery Program for stored water is up for renewal in 2010 and is this year subject to a pending environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Colorado River District is leading an effort to help fund the assessment and has gained support from a number of Western Colorado entities that have benefited from the Recovery Program.

Contributors include Grand County, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Eagle County), the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority (Eagle County), Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Frisco, Parachute, the Ute Water Conservancy District (Mesa County), the West Divide Water Conservancy District (Garfield and Pitkin Counties), the Basalt Water Conservancy District (Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield Counties), the Grand Valley Water Users Association (Mesa County), the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (Mesa County), the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (Mesa County) and the Colorado River District.

The partners are helping to fund an environmental assessment of a program to preserve a 10,825 acre-foot pool of water dedicated to the Recovery Program. An acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons of water.

This water obligation is currently split 50-50 by West Slope water users of the main stem Colorado River and Front Range entities that divert water from the Colorado River through transmountain diversions.

Under an expiring deal, the Colorado River District has been releasing half the water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir on behalf of the West Slope and Denver Water has been releasing its half from Williams Fork Reservoir on behalf of the Front Range. A new arrangement would provide half the water from Ruedi Reservoir and half from Granby Reservoir. The Colorado River District will continue to supply a separate pool of environmental water for endangered fish – 6,000 acre-feet – from Wolford Mountain.

The environmental analysis will cost an estimated $550,000, to be split 50-50 between the Front Range and the West Slope. Dan Birch, Deputy General Manager of the Colorado River District, is coordinating the effort to achieve the new deal and to gain financial support from West Slope water users. Negotiations continue to bolster the West Slope’s half of the commitment.

“We are pleased that 13 water providers have committed thus far and we look forward to help from other water users in the basin,” Birch said. He commended Ute, the Eagle County districts and Grand County for being leaders on this environmental issue.

If water users cannot win approval of the 10,825 plan, the blanket protection afforded water users by the Recovery Program would be jeopardized, forcing entities who need to improve their water supplies from the Colorado River and its tributaries to undergo expensive, individual consultations with federal authorities.

The water in question, as ell as other sources of environmental water for the endangered fish, helps bolster flows in the 15-Milew Reach between Palisade and Grand Junction. The endangered fish are the Colorado pikeminnow, the humpback chub, the razorback sucker and the bonytail chub.

Pending the environmental assessment, water users are still liable for payment for the new arrangement. The Front Range option at Granby Reservoir is estimated to cost about $17 million. The West Slope option at Ruedi Reservoir could cost about $8 million. The Colorado River District is working on Congressional legislation to make the cost of the Ruedi water non-reimbursable because the federal water would be used to meet a federal environmental program. Ruedi is part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a transmountain diversion that supplies West Slope water to water users in the Arkansas River basin.

For more information about the 10,825 effort, contact Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District at             (970) 945-8522       x 236 or jpokrandt@crwcd.org. For more information on the Recovery Program, go to:
www.coloradoriverrecovery.org.