While politics can divide Grand County, there is an issue that should unite us. It flows through us and it is important to us all, whether we simply enjoy it, use it for recreation, or depend on it for tourist and fishing businesses or ranching. It is the Fraser River and its tributaries and Denver Water's Moffat Firming Project plan to divert 80 percent of its natural flow to the Eastern Slope.
Push is coming to shove soon on critical approvals of the project. Some local decision-makers signed off on it with the impression that the environmental problems have been resolved. A large number of landowners who think otherwise are petitioning the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny the diversion plans until better measures are taken to minimize the damage.
I have lived both part time and full time for the past 43 years on a bluff above that Fraser River. When our children were young, I remember on a still summers' night hearing the water 250 feet below us rush through its native channel. The clear, cold water ran deeply enough to allow our youngsters to splash in it on a hot summer day. Our youngest daughter, nearly 9, pulled a 14-inch rainbow out of the water herself (with the help of a nearby fisherman and his net). It was her first big one and she caught it with salmon eggs on a dime store rod and reel.
Later, the Fraser River Trail gave us a place to walk our dogs, but also brought us face to face with algae and a diminished river barely worthy of being called a creek. Denver Water has already taken 60 percent from it and they now want to divert another 20 percent.
Even in its diminished flow, the beavers, chased out by trappers in the '70's, have returned and we thrill to see the moose nibbling on the willows. Red wing blackbirds fly up to our feeder and perch on our deck's rails and deer tread silently down through a nearby gully to water. It is for our family more than a stream; it is part of our lives.
For others in this valley, it brings business; fly shops and ambiance for condos, cabins and year-round homes near its banks. It is where cattle drink and irrigated hay grows, where golfers tap balls and dig divots on the greens along, it and where tourists view the wildlife it attracts.
An agreement has been signed by some county officials who think it is the best deal they can get with Denver Water to provide mitigation of the impacts that such a drastic draining would bring to the willows, wetlands, and fishing. Scientific measurements show that the river is so shallow in the heat of summer, the temperature rises and the fish die. Denver Water is proposing to provide 250 acre-feet of water in August only to flush out mud and to lower the temperature. However, there are others who see this as inadequate. Temperatures are rising in June, July ,and September as well, and the volume released will not be enough to flush out the mud. Those who object to the plan that is being proposed believe that the environmental impact statements submitted are so inadequate, there is no way to assess the long term harm.
A group of land owners is writing a letter to the Army Corps and the EPA asking them to restrict diversion when stream temperatures approach state standards, to provide adequate flushing flows, and ongoing monitoring with provisions to allow for future adjustments and more mitigation measures if the conditions deteriorate. For those who would like to know more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be writing a similar letter, too.