Agreement allows Moffat Project to proceed

Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited, a national non-profit, have reached a breakthrough agreement guaranteeing environmental protections for the potentially threatened Fraser River.

Denver Water and Trout Unlimited had been locked in conflict for a decade over a proposed Moffat diversion from the Fraser River – Trout Unlimited argued that the Moffat Collection System Project (Moffat Project) would essentially put the Fraser and its trout fishery “on life support.”

The Moffat Project to enlarge Denver Water’s Gross Dam by approximately 130 feet, which would increase reservoir capacity from 41,811 AF to approximately 119,000 AF and would increase annual water supplies by 18,000 AF.  Denver Water sees the project as insurance against a future water shortfall, insurance against drought impacts, and a corrections to an imbalance in their collection system.

Trout Unlimited engaged in a persistent campaign against the project, applying pressure through regulatory meetings, rallies in Denver, and “thousands” of public comment letters to the agencies responsible for permitting the project.

A joint statement released by Denver Water credits Grand County with “reach[ing] out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to propose additional environmental mitigations.” Trout Unlimited called the decision “a victory for the river,” and Denver Water believes that the protections enacted will ensure that the Fraser is “better off with the Moffat project than without it.”

The innovation driving this new agreement is Learning By Doing (LBD), a management program designed to include all stakeholders as the Moffat Project is monitored and conditionally adapted. Denver Water entered into the intergovernmental LBD agreement with Grand County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and Middle Park Conservation District. LBD’s explicit purpose is to “maintain and, where reasonably possible, restore or enhance the condition of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

The LBD agreement contains a number of provisions regarding stream temperature, flow levels, riparian habitat health, sediment transport and channel stability, and cutthroat trout conservation. For each category, Denver Water has committed to monitor conditions at different points, which include USGS gages along the Fraser. In the event that certain thresholds or limits are surpassed, Denver Water will contribute a sum (typically $1 million) to fund projects addressing the relevant issue.

The novel LBD approach and amicable cooperation among the involved stakeholders strikes a different tone than that of the typical water conversations between urban and rural Colorado. The Front Range contains the large majority of Coloradans, but lacks water, which can cause tensions with the water-rich and agriculture-focused Western Slope to run high. Learning By Doing – as exemplified in the Moffat Project – could represent a new trend in water management and water relations, one that prioritizes adaptation and accommodation of potentially conflicting goals.

Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to the state and federal agencies responsible for permitting the Moffat Project. They have requested that the project be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.

The final Environmental Impact Statement for the project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers in early 2015.

For information on the Moffat Collection System Project view this video by Denver Water

Written by Stratecon staff