Thu June 9, 2011

Colorado Wildlife Commission Signs Off on Water Projects

State wildlife commissioners have given unanimous approval to mitigation plans for a pair of proposals that would send more water from the Upper Colorado River basin over the mountains to the booming Front Range.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has the final say on the proposals from Denver Water and Northern Water.  But a recommendation by state wildlife officials is seen as influential. 

At a meeting in Grand Junction Thursday, Wildlife Commissioner Gaspar Perricone said the mitigation efforts Denver and Northern are proposing will lead to a healthier Colorado River than exists today.

"It’s not what we would all like to see, we’re cognizant of that," Perricone said.  "We would all like to see it back to the days of when the Indians inhabited this territory, the unfortunate reality is that isn’t the vote that’s before us."

Both utilities want to increase the amount of water going into their collection systems, and under Colorado’s complex water law, they already have this legal right assuming their mitigation plans are approved. 

Still, many conservationists and landowners near where the water diversions would happen are fighting the projects.

"If we don’t have any fish left, what are we going to have in the river other than a sewer pipe," said Mike Repucci, who owns land along the Frasier River. "Protect this river, that’s what you’re here for." 

Several opponents who testified Thursday even quipped that much of the apparent demand is for watering green grass lawns on the high desert Front Range; an argument often disputed by water managers who say the extra water is needed to meet future population projections. 

Reached after the vote, Denver Water's Project Manager Travis Bray said: "I think the commissioners summed it up best when they said, 'it’s not a perfect plan and this isn’t a perfect world, but we’re trying to do things and make it better than it is today,' and Denver Water is taking the necessary steps to make things better."

Bray said Denver Water's approach to meeting future demands rests on a combination of recycling projects, conservation and increased, but limited trans-mountain diversions. 

The Denver and Northern Water proposals go next to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.