Celebrate A Major Victory for the Fraser River!
The Fraser River is an outstanding trout fishery that has been treasured by generations of Coloradoans and even drew President Eisenhower to the area to fish in an area known as his “Western White House”. Now it is poised to enjoy a renaissance and a future worthy of its storied past.
After years of persistence and hard work – negotiations, public outreach, research, community organizing, lobbying – TU has announced a major deal with Denver Water and Grand County that will bring a new spirit of collaboration – along with significant financial and water resources – to conserving and restoring the Fraser River watershed.
The Fraser, a key tributary of the Upper Colorado that flows from Berthoud Pass to Granby, has been hammered by years of diversions. Currently, Denver Water is taking about 60 percent of the natural flows of the Fraser, and their proposed project to expand diversions through the Moffat Tunnel would take another 15 percent of the river. That would put the Fraser and its trout fishery on life support, unless the river received additional protections and mitigation to offset the potential impacts.
For the past decade, TU has been working to secure just those kinds of protections. We identified three core issues for the river: avoiding excessively warm water temperatures that threaten trout and other coldwater species; ensuring adequate “flushing flows” to keep stream beds from becoming clogged by sediment; and including a long-term monitoring and adaptive management program to deal with future challenges that might not be foreseen based on limited information today. Over the years we had moments of promise and others where things looked bleak – but we never stopped pushing for the protections we knew the Fraser River needed. Now, we can celebrate an agreement that addresses all three challenges and helps secure a bright future for the Fraser.
The new agreement, called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, builds on other commitments Denver Water has previously made to address issues facing the Fraser. Under the agreement, Denver Water will provide additional instream flows during key summer months to help keep water temperatures from rising too high. They will use the flexibility built into their extensive water diversion system to help meet target peak flows to help flush sediment and maintain habitat. All of this will take part through a new collaboration called “Learning By Doing” that includes long-term monitoring, financial and water contributions from Denver Water, and cooperative management to adjust conservation and mitigation efforts over time to minimize impacts and maximize benefits for the Fraser River. Importantly, Denver has agreed to propose Learning By Doing as a condition of its federal permit for the Moffat Project – meaning that the commitment to this effort will be secure not only today, but for the future.
Through this Plan and the parallel agreements, the Fraser and Upper Colorado will have an impressive package of protections and enhancements to help secure their future:
· Measures to address stream temperature issues:
o Monitor stream temperatures and bypass up to 250 AF of water annually if stream temperatures reach state standards
o Bypass sufficient additional flows to reach defined minimum flows if stream temperature problem persists after the 250 AF have been bypassed
o Contribute $1 million to additional projects if temperature problems persist
· Measures to address sediment issues:
o Work to provide flushing flows as recommended in Grand County’s Stream Management Plan
o Operate and maintain sediment pond that catches highway traction sand
o Contribute $1 million to additional projects if sediment problems persist
· $750,000 for fish habitat restoration projects
· $72,500 for fish barrier and restoration of cutthroat habitat plus any additional measures required by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in its Biological Opinion
· Through Learning by Doing, implement an extensive monitoring program including stream temperature, sediment transport, benthic macroinvertebrates, and riparian areas and wetlands
· Use Denver Water’s system operation flexibility to address identified problems while maintaining water yield
· Provide in-kind contributions of people, equipment and material to benefit Learning by Doing
· $3.25 million for aquatic habitat improvement projects ($1.25 million available before the project is built)
· $2 million for water quality projects (available before the project is built)
· $1 million to pump water at Windy Gap to Granby for release for the benefit of the Colorado River below Granby and below Windy Gap Reservoir
· $2 million for stream improvement projects in the Colorado River
· $1 million for the Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder effort in the Colorado River
· 1000 AF of water each year released from Denver Water’s Fraser collection system for the benefit of Fraser basin streams
· 1000 AF of water each year released from Williams Fork reservoir (including up to 2,500 AF of carryover storage) for the benefit of the Colorado River below its confluence with Williams Fork
It has been a long road, and one that we haven’t travelled alone. Our conservation allies have been steadfast in their shared commitment to this watershed. Grand County has been a remarkable example of local government leadership in protecting the values of their home waters. Local landowners have contributed their time, expertise, resources, and political support – standing up for their local watershed and community. Denver Water, while we didn’t always see eye to eye, maintained an open door for dialogue and has stepped up to address its impacts in good faith. We deeply appreciate the contributions of all of our partners to this milestone victory for a treasured river.
And we thank you – our members and supporters – for all that you have done throughout this effort to make this achievement possible. You’ve turned up at public meetings, submitted letters and comments to regulatory agencies, taken part in rallies to support the river, shared the Fraser the Trout video with friends and signed the petition of support for the river – all of these individual efforts and actions have added up to a powerful force for change and truly made a difference for the Fraser River.
I’m very proud of what “Team TU” has accomplished together —national staff, state council and grassroots all working together. Mely Whiting of TU’s Colorado Water Project has put blood, sweat and tears into this campaign for years, attending countless meetings, crunching mind-numbing technical data, and negotiating the shoals of the federal permitting process. Our Council staff and volunteer leaders like Sinjin Eberle have helped at every step with negotiations and public education. TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter and its president, Kirk Klancke, spoke eloquently about the Fraser at every opportunity and spearheaded chapter-led restoration projects. (Kirk’s passionate advocacy was the subject of a recent National Geographic profile online.) At all levels, TU has been working together to protect the Fraser and Upper Colorado.
This agreement comes just over a year after a similar agreement was reached with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District on its Windy Gap Firming Project – including extensive river protections and mitigation for the Upper Colorado River, including a shared vision for reconnecting the Colorado River through the current Windy Gap dam to restore fish passage, create improved habitat, and enhance water quality. Collectively, these agreements and the long-term cooperation envisioned under Learning by Doing give us a chance to truly protect and restore a priceless part of Colorado’s river heritage.
While this is a major turning point, our work in the Fraser basin and Upper Colorado is far from over. With both the Moffat and Windy Gap projects, we need to secure final federal permits that reflect the agreements reached with Denver and Northern. Your voice in urging the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation to honor these agreements and lend their support and force of law to the effort will be vital. Beyond that, we will have the long-term work of collaborating with Denver, Northern, Grand County, local landowners, and community partners for ongoing monitoring, cooperative water management, leveraging of additional financial and volunteer resources, and completing projects to improve river health. These agreements provide the framework and opportunity for future success – and ensure TU has a place at the table moving forward – but it will take our continued committed efforts to truly achieve the full potential of these victories for Colorado’s rivers.
Your continued support and involvement with TU will make that possible, and I thank you for helping us to make a difference.
CTU Executive Director
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