Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing | SkyHiNews.com

Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing

A public hearing on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project's Final Environmental Impact Statement in Boulder attracted a variety of voices, but almost all of them questioned the document's thoroughness in evaluating environmental impacts of the project. "There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging," said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. "Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme." Denver currently diverts a large amount of water from the Fraser River through the Moffat Collection Tunnel. The current project proposal seeks to triple the capacity of the Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. Denver water currently divers 60 percent of the upper Fraser River's flows, and the project would see even more water drawn from the river. Proponents say the new expansion will improve the reliability of Denver Water's system and will stymie looming water shortages. But critics say the project's impacts haven't been accurately assessed and the project could cause serious harm to the Colorado and Fraser rivers. The July 16 meeting was to gather public comment to send to the Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve the final project. Though there was a June 9 cutoff for the comment period, commissioners said the Corps would still accept "substantive public comment." At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners' staff voiced concerns about the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement. The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project. "There wasn't a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project," said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners' staff deputy. "Specifically, there wasn't any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative." Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure. Though most of the discussion focused on the project's impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope. "We would want to draw the Corps' attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County," Jones said. More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions. "The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they've brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps," said Little. The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Grand County: Mitigation will address EPA Moffat concerns

Official comments from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Moffat Collection System Project have been critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' methodology in determining environmental impacts from the project. But Grand County Commissioner James Newberry said Denver Water's proposed mitigation and enhancement would address those concerns. "The EPA is just reiterating what they said from the very start, and basically, what's going on with that is those are a lot of the same comments that Grand County had," Newberry said. "These are the same comments that have been going on. What we did with the mitigation and enhancements and the Colorado River agreement addresses those questions." Denver currently diverts a large amount of water from the Fraser River through the Moffat Collection Tunnel. The current project proposal seeks to triple the capacity of the Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. Denver water currently diverts 60 percent of the upper Fraser River's flows, and the project would see even more water drawn from the river. The cost of the project is expected to be around $360 million. The EPA's 22-page letter to the Corps of Engineers contains a number of recommendations, including expanding proposed mitigation of the project's impacts on the Fraser and Colorado rivers. "As mentioned throughout this comment letter, the documentation of proposed mitigation for project impacts is inadequate to determine compliance with this section of the Guidelines," the letter states. The EPA recommended additional mitigation measures such as adding additional bypass flows during low-flow periods, replacing riffle-pool complexes in affected rivers, and moving diversion structures lower in the watershed to increase wetted habitat. The county's comments, contained in a two-page letter, also criticized the Corps of Engineers' conclusions on environmental impacts, though it stated that understanding impacts was "fraught with uncertainty." "Because of these inherent uncertainties, the County would like to emphasize its support for the general approach to mitigation embodied in Denver Water's Conceptual Mitigation Proposal that includes measures described as mitigation and additional environmental protections," the letter states. The letter also touts Denver Water's participation in Learning By Doing, an adaptive management process that could see mitigation measures change in order to prevent declines in river health and improve conditions in certain areas. The project has drawn lots of criticism in recent months, and not just from the EPA. A Boulder County Commissioners meeting in June was dominated by voices critical of the project's impacts on Boulder County. But Newberry said those involved need to move on. "Why argue about (the data)?" Newberry said. "Let's get into the river, get the scientists in the river, and get started on fixing this thing. That's our mantra." Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Boulder County rejects Moffat Firming Project deal

Boulder County Commissioners this week heard citizens passionately testify against the enlargement of Gross Dam, a key element in Denver Water’s Moffat Firming Project. With a revised final Environmental Impact Statement yet to be released on the Moffat firming project and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Boulder County was considering signing an agreement with Denver Water that essentially would have forfeited that county’s powers under 1041 permitting and accepted $8.25 million in mitigation money. But during a three-hour public hearing on the issue, commissioners were swayed to reject the deal with Denver Water after hearing citizen after citizen say the deal was premature, not enough, and that the project is a sorry substitution for what Denver Water should be doing: Stepping up its conservation measures. During the hearing, Chris Garre of The Environmental Group called the IGA “a thinly valed bribe, nothing more,” and called the Moffat Firming Project an “environmental catastrophe.” Several citizens spoke of the troubled rivers in Grand County and the implications of the project statewide. “On shutting off the Fraser River, if the argument is that it’s not in our county, it’s not our concern, that’s just not taking responsibility for your actions,” said one resident who testified, saying the Moffat Firming project is about “waste, sprawl and fracking.” Another Boulder County citizen used up her three minutes at the podium for a moment of silence in contemplation of the Colorado River. “Let’s think of the Colorado River, a river that is dying, or in this case, being killed,” she said before leading the 200-or so meeting attendees and commissioners into a short meditation. “Fundamentally, we believe this project is not a well-considered project,” said Will Toor, outgoing Boulder County Commissioner. “I don’t beleive we should be diverting additonal water from the Western Slope.” “We hear you loud and clear about the Western Slope and the issues with the Colorado River,” said Boulder County Commissioner Chair Cindy Domenico, after the board’s decision to risk not settling with an IGA. “It’s something as a Colorado community we need to really think about.” Neighbors to the proposed Gross Dam expansion were especially against an estimated seven-year construction project fraught with heavy truck traffic on a county road, plus the impact the project would have to trails, vegetation, a waterfall and wildlife on 400 acres. “We’re so proud of the commissioners and grateful to the community who turned up in droves to help educate and inform the decision Boulder County made,” said Garre, in statements released on Tuesday. “The commissioners’ decision fills us with a tremendous amount of optimism that Boulder County will stand its ground.” Their decision not to sign the IGA does not stop the project, “but it does send a clear signal to Denver Water that the county is not willing to settle for such inadequate compensation and mitigation,” according to a joint statement released by environmental groups opposed to the project. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

Rollins Pass hearing does little to bridge divide

Despite efforts from officials in Grand and Gilpin counties, along with a slew of history buffs, a celebrated mountain road remains locked in political impasse. Boulder County commissioners held a formal hearing last Thursday, Feb. 13, to gather public input on re-opening the historic Rollins Pass road, a former wagon toll road and trans-mountain railroad route. Much of Rollins Pass, known locally as Corona Pass, remains open to high-clearance and four-wheel drive vehicles in the summer. Boulder County, however, blocked and closed an important bottleneck at Needle's Eye Tunnel in 1990, severing the link between U.S. Highway 40 in Winter Park and State Highway 119 in Gilpin County. Commissioners in Grand and Gilpin counties have been petitioning Boulder to re-open the road for years, saying it was an important stipulation of the James Peak Wilderness Act. But Boulder County has done little to cooperate, citing issues with potential liability, cost and environmental impact. "They've been stonewalling on this thing for decades, honestly," said Grand County commissioner Merrit Linke. 'Overblown' costs? Many attending the meeting, including Grand County commissioners Linke and Gary Bumgarner, as well as Gilpin County commissioner Gail Watson, took issue with the costs Boulder County estimates as their share in re-opening the pass. According to a presentation made at the public meeting, Boulder County estimates it will take $3.24 million to bring their share of the road up to "level 3" status, where two-wheel drive vehicles could travel the pass. Repair and restoration of trestles in the county, engineered and used for the historic railroad, would cost $6.3 million. The county also estimates it will take $610,000 to repair Needles Eye Tunnel and bring it up to safety standards. Liability in the tunnel is a sore issue with Boulder County, after a falling rock injured a traveler in 1990, resulting in an $85,000 lawsuit and the current closure. On top of those costs, the Boulder County presentation noted the U.S. Forest Service estimates a required environmental review for re-opening the road at $1 million. In light of Boulder's current priorities on fixing damaged roads from the September floods on the Front Range, presenters said, the costs of re-opening the road were difficult to justify. But some meeting attendees said the county's figures are inflated. "I don't know how they got these numbers," Gilpin County commissioner Watson said in an interview. "Gilpin has always done basic maintenance on the road, and Boulder, Gilpin and Grand counties all get federal highway use taxes for the road." She estimates Gilpin currently spends around $1,500 to maintain their portion of the road. Grand County budgets about $3,200 each year to do basic maintenance on Corona Pass, and Boulder's numbers confounded commissioner Linke as well. "I think it's way overblown," he said. According to Linke, the cost of repairing Boulder's two trestles could be excluded by using the Boulder Wagon Road, a historic route that's currently used by hikers and bikers to bypass the closed trestles. But language in the James Peak Wilderness Act is where necessary costs and repairs become cloudy. The act says should "one or more counties" wish to repair Rollins Pass road, the U.S. Department of Interior will assist with those repairs to allow access for "two-wheel-drive vehicles." The old wagon road is much steeper than the Rollins Pass railroad route, which was engineered to run at a consistent four percent grade. Others attending the meeting claimed Boulder County was trying to mislead the public about the trestles. For a detail photograph used to highlight the repair work needed on trestles in Boulder County, the presenters showed a closed bridge actually located along the Grand County portion of the road. Gilpin and Grand county commissioners further argue that although the James Peak Wilderness Act notes "two-wheel-drive vehicle" accessible repairs, it's not necessary to go to the lengths Boulder County recommended. Although Rollins Pass might include steep bypasses of the trestles and rocky, rutted areas, minimal grading allowed a variety of vehicles to drive the road's length in past decades. Some meeting attendees recalled driving the pass in their 11970s coupes before Boulder County permanently closed the Needle's Eye in 1990. Split views Although the whopping majority of public commenters at the meeting where in favor of re-opening the pass, Boulder County commissioner Cindy Domenico said in an interview that public opinion is about equally divided on the issue. She said 49 individual speakers commented on re-opening the pass, with only 10 against. However, she said commissioners also received letters and emails on the issue, with 40 against reopening the pass and nine in favor. Those speaking against re-opening the pass are mostly concerned with potential environmental impacts to the road's adjoining protected areas – the Indian Peaks wilderness and James Peak wilderness. James Peak Wilderness remains a touchy subject for Grand County. "When the (James Peak) Wilderness Act started going into place, Grand County protested. We didn't want it," Linke said. "But part of the reason we agreed to it is because this historical corridor was carved out." Linke and other commissioners in Grand and Gilpin counties acknowledge Rollins Pass winds through a fragile, high-alpine ecosystem, but said barriers and public education could be used to help protect the area. Keeping the Needle's Eye area closed blocks county officials from enforcing the entire route and encourages travelers to move off established roads, they argued, which is already causing damage to the area. "We believe with the road open, there will be a lot more peer monitoring and pressure to stay on the road, and I think people will respect that," Linke said. "I made a statement in the meeting, that people take care of things that are taken care of. I think that highway's having problems now because it's viewed as a road neglected." Re-opening the road will undoubtedly bring more traffic to the area, but it will also bring some economic stimulus to Gilpin and Grand Counties, as well as connect Coloradans to an important part of their heritage and an amazing feat of engineering that helped connect the state. "It's not just a railroad's history, but the railroad played part in every portion of our history of people in the West," Gilpin County commissioner Watson said. It's that historic nature Gilpin and Grand county officials hope to preserve, Watson explained. "We're not saying this is a road that'll be an alternative for I-70, we're not talking about another Trail Ridge Road," she said. "It won't be paved, it won't be widened, it won't be plowed in the winter … we don't think we should change it greatly." The commissioners from Gilpin and Grand are even willing to assume much of the risk for the Needle's Eye Tunnel by forming a tunnel authority. Boulder Bottleneck Adding to much of Rollins Pass enthusiasts' frustration is Boulder County's ability to impede passage through such a small bottleneck. Of the roughly 25 miles that make up Rollins Pass, only about three pass through Boulder County. Grand and Gilpin counties divide up the rest. When stakeholders finally worked out provisions in the James Peak Wilderness Act so it could be adopted into law in 2002, excluding the Rollins Pass corridor from inclusion, Grand County contributed 16,000 acres to the James Peak Protection area, Gilpin County contributed 9,389 acres to the wilderness area and Clear Creek County contributed 7,469. Only 189 acres in Boulder County went to the wilderness. "In general, it's just a very challenging situation," Watson said. "My sense is that Boulder County commissioners don't want to re-open it, although they haven't said that. It's more what they haven't done, meetings they haven't attended and conversations they haven't wanted to have." For the time being, Domenico said she and the other commissioners don't have any future steps planned regarding the pass. "I think we need to be very careful about next steps so we take into account the larger picture." she said. "It was a little different than the typical hearing," she added, noting the number of attendees from outside Boulder County. She said the commissioners are taking the public comments into consideration, but reiterated Boulder County remains apprehensive about cost, liability and impact. Grand and Gilpin commissioners co-authored a letter to Boulder commissioners late last November with possible solutions to those concerns. Linke said they intend to send another letter next week urging Boulder County to take action. If that doesn't work, he said they're exploring the idea of having the pass declared as a national monument or finding a way to get the U.S. Forest Service to take ownership of the road. "We want their cooperation with this," he said," but we do feel there's a way around it, a way to get it open with or without them." Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334.

Gore Canyon Whitewater Park authorized

KREMMLING – Authorization has been given to establish the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at the Pumphouse Recreation Site on the upper Colorado River. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave the authorization on Aug. 15. Grand County submitted a right-of-way application to build engineer-designed boulder and block features across the full width of the river upstream of the Pumphouse boat launch 2. Grand County was recently awarded historic water rights for constructing this waterpark. The engineer-designed boulders and block-like concrete objects would be placed across the stream channel. The objects would not be visible at normal flows and would allow for fish passage at all flow rates. Construction is scheduled to begin in November. "The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000-70,000 people that visit the area each year," said BLM Kremmling Field Manager Stephanie Odell. "It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational floatboating." The Decision Record, Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available on-line at http://www.blm.gov/co/kfo.

Grand County among communities exploring the re-opening of Corona Pass

Fourth generation rancher Jim Yust of Kremmling considers Corona Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide, not only a piece of Colorado history, but representative of his own family’s past. Years ago, on the route created by David Moffat for the Denver Northwestern and Pacific Railway, Jim’s father Ed Yust traveled across the pass in a caboose with his loads of cattle, and his grandmother was once snowbound at Corona in a train. In later years, after the railroad route became an auto route, Yust would travel over the route with his father for leisurely exploration of Colorado’s most majestic passages. “I’ve been advocating keeping it open ever since they first opened it in the ’50s,” Yust said. He continues that advocacy on the Rollins Pass Restoration Association. The 32-mile road that passes through three counties, two U.S. Forest Service districts and federally protected wilderness land can be accessed on either side of the Continental Divide, but users haven’t been able to continue the route to the other side since 1990. The Needles Eye Tunnel in Boulder County was closed off at that time from a rockfall, which caused a Denver man to lose his foot. Boulder County became liable for the injury at a cost of around $85,000. Since then, Boulder County has been hesitant to repair and reopen the passage due to the liability. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service office on the eastern side has outlined the need for a National Environmental Policy Act study, at an estimated cost of around $750,000, were stakeholders to move forward on repairing the dirt summer route for two-wheel drive vehicles. Talks about the status of reopening the Rollins (Corona Pass) route from Winter Park to Rollinsville in Gilpin County have sparked interest from Sen. Mark Udall’s staff, who organized a recent meeting between U.S. Forest Service officials and Grand, Gilpin and Boulder county officials. Grand County commissioners, who along with Gilpin officials advocate repairing the pass, attended the meeting via telephone since they were held up by the March avalanche on Berthoud Pass. The meeting did not result in a plan to rectify road barriers, according to Boulder officials, but served to outline challenges and concerns standing in the way of reopening the route. There are those who worry of potential environmental impacts near a protection area, and the risk of motorists exploring land off-trail. There are also significant costs involved, not only to repair the tunnel, but in liability, grading and road maintenance, said Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle. There are “substantial issues that take time, energy and money to resolve,” said Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman. At a time when counties, including Boulder, are exploring how to shave budgets, “We’re talking about a big price tag if this were to move forward,” he said. The proponents on both sides of the pass who would like to see it open again cite the road’s scenic vistas, its capability of attracting tourism to Rollinsville and Winter Park, as well as its glimpse into Colorado’s railroad history. And, “there aren’t that many places in the high country that handicapped people can get to,” Yust said. “It’s a historic area, not only for the state of Colorado, but for Grand County,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “We’re looking to preserve that piece of history.” Once dubbed the “Hill Route,” the pass served as a temporary railway line from 1904 to 1928. When the Moffat Tunnel was completed, the original Hill Route was abandoned until 1955 when it became an automobile route on the rail bed. The route served as a tourist attraction until a rockfall occurred in 1979 near the north portal of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel. Upon repairs, it reopened in 1987, but collapsed again in 1990. Travelers on the dirt road then illegally used a forest road to bypass the tunnel, but that road travels through wilderness area and foresters have attempted to keep it blockaded. The intent of a provision in the 2002 James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act was to keep Rollins (Corona) Pass exempted from wilderness designation and to one-day reopen it, Newberry said. The provision states: “The Secretary (Forest Service) shall provide technical assistance and otherwise cooperate with respect to repairing the Rollins Pass road in those counties sufficiently to allow two-wheel-drive vehicles to travel between Colorado State Highway 119 and U.S. Highway 40.” The provision goes on to say that if the road is repaired and reopened, the Forest Service could then close alternate routes that link to Rollins Pass. But advocates like Yust don’t see the why the main route would need further environmental studies when, historically, it has always been a transportation line. “The Boulder district is throwing up every roadblock,” Yust said, “everything conceivable to fight it as hard as they can.” – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.

Counties edge closer to Rollins Pass accord

Officials from Grand and Gilpin counties say they are making headway with Boulder County on ways to reopen the historic and scenic Rollins (Corona) Pass someday. A recent meeting among commissioners of the tri-county area left Gilpin and Grand County officials encouraged that the 32-mile route that passes over three counties, two U.S. Forest Service districts and near federally protected wilderness land may someday once again serve the touring public. Users haven’t been able to continue the historic route to the other side of the Continental Divide since 1990, after Boulder County closed off the Needles Eye Tunnel at the top of the pass when a falling rock left a Denver man seriously injured. The incident became an $85,000 liability to Boulder County and a greater amount the U.S. Forest Service. Since then, Boulder County has been reluctant to join the other two counties in reopening the pass to motorists, not only because of the liability, but also because of adjacent federally protected lands. The road right of way was carved out of two federal wilderness bills, the James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act of 2002 and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Act of 1977. “If we could come up with a way to protect the tundra and make Needle’s Eye safe, Boulder has said, ‘We can get out of your way,’” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, in a recap of the Boulder meeting during a Nov. 2 Grand County-hosted discussion about the issue. Newberry encouraged Rollins Pass advocates at the meeting to not get bogged down on who owns the road and language written in wilderness legislation, but to move forward with how Boulder’s concerns can be alleviated to make opening the road more plausible. “Groups coming together, saying they want something done, has a lot of clout,” Newberry said. Yet the project, which has been gaining momentum since 2005, faces both literal and figurative barriers involving the Forest Service, which due to an existing high pressure gas pipeline, natural resources and overall degradation of the high-mountain roads, has barricaded the top of Rollins on both the pass and the rough Boulder Wagon Road. It has stated in the past that federal environmental approval would be necessary in order for the counties to move forward in fixing the tunnel and reopening the road – deemed a potentially costly and lengthy process. Grand County officials hope to first come up with a proposal on which all three counties agree, then move forward in working with the Forest Service. “That tunnel, that’s always been the big problem,” said Gilpin County Commissioner Chair Buddy Schmalz last Wednesday. Gilpin County absorbs most of Rollins Pass on the eastern side, but the county does not maintain its length of the road. “One of the solutions is to create a tunnel authority. All three counties could become part of an authority that owns and operates the tunnel,” Schmalz said. “Boulder was receptive to that, which I think is a big hurdle.” That may be one idea to address Boulder officials’ and forest officials’ concerns about liability and safety of the pass. “We have a long way to go in resolving these issues,” said Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman. But, “if all of those issues can be resolved to our satisfaction, then we can really start talking about whether it makes sense,” he said. The project could face much public scrutiny on the east side of the Divide. A large number of Boulder County constituents worry opening up the area to through traffic could entice off-roaders to forge trails in wilderness, according to Pearlman. At Tuesday’s meeting, Newberry illustrated how county officials might envision the pass for the future, which could be a combination of the safest portions of Rollins Pass Road and the Boulder Wagon Road on the top 6-8 acres within Boulder County’s boundaries. The funds needed to improve those roads might be found in a combination of federal, local and private grant funds, with counties sharing maintenance responsibilities. But all of these details have to be worked out. “We’ll deal with that when that comes up,” Schmalz said. Meanwhile, some citizens of Gilpin’s town of Rollinsville eagerly await a road reopening. For the small struggling mining town on the eastern side of the pass, the road could mean revitalization. “It would explode the town,” said Lynn Slinger, resident and owner of several rental properties in Rollinsville. “It would help businesses flourish.” The town contains about 12 Main Street businesses, including one grocery store and one restaurant. Schmalz predicts opening the pass would “probably double property values.” Yet her support for Rollins may not be shared by all who live there. “Some people I’ve talked to think it would destroy the character of the town … ruin the cowboy character,” she said.

Boulder County to consider re-opening Rollins Pass

BOULDER — Next week, supporters of Rollins Pass could make strides in opening the historic mountain road once again. After reviewing a proposal by Grand and Gilpin Counties to repair and re-open the Needles Eye Tunnel, Boulder County commissioners will take public comment on allowing vehicular traffic to link Colorado Highway 119 to U.S. Highway 40 for the first time in nearly 15 years. Needles Eye Tunnel is located on the Rollins Pass leg, winding through Boulder County. Portions of Rollins Pass, sometimes called Corona Pass, running through Gilpin and Grand counties remain open to high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles, but the small tunnel has remained a roadblock since a falling rock injured a traveler in 1990. After a $85,000 lawsuit, Boulder County officials had the Needles Eye closed. The proposal submitted by Grand and Gilpin commissioners recommends forming a tunnel authority to assume liability and risk, outlines methods of funding the road and tunnel repairs and offers suggestions for environmental preservation along the road, which winds along the boundary of James Peak Wilderness. Boulder County Commissioners will take public comment regarding the proposal from Boulder County residents at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13, at the Boulder County Courthouse.

Denver Water digs into Vasquez Canal Project

The summer construction season continues in the high country with developers, local governments and everyday folks gearing up and getting down to work while the weather still allows it. There are several large-scale construction projects being undertaken this summer in Grand County, among them is Denver Water's massive Vasquez Canal Project, which saw this year's construction kick off in late June. The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe. Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future. Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, "funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually". In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually. Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. "Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece," stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, "work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system." Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out. The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, "there would be no significant environmental impacts." Officials from Denver Water went on to state, "They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction." The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water's historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, "we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access." In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system. Water utilized by the Denver Water's diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range. Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.

Even with ‘historic’ agreements, water still divisive issue in Colorado

Water officials in Grand County and on the Front Range are heralding a "new area of cooperation" with protecting water resources, but not everyone is on board. At a celebration lunch on April 24 at Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, representatives from Denver Water, the Colorado Governor's Office, Grand County and Trout Unlimited spoke in favor of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Nearing its one-year anniversary this September, the agreement coordinates efforts between 18 interest groups to both protect West Slope watersheds while providing future water supplies to Denver customers. The celebration came in the wake of the latest development in the proposed Moffat Collection System, Denver Water's latest trans-mountain water project. "(Our) overall goal is to protect the watershed and economies in the Colorado River Basin and help provide additional water security for those who live, work and play on the West Slope and (for) the customers of Denver Water," said Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, at the lunch celebration. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement helps protect river flows in western watersheds, including the Fraser River, through projects and permitting. Past trans-mountain diversions in Grand County and other West Slope communities have reduced flows in rivers and streams, impacting water clarity and aquatic life. Denver Water will pay out $1.95 million in Grand County for watershed, water treatment and river habitat improvements. It will send another $2 million to Summit County. The agreement is being called "historic" for its unprecedented work in bringing together a wide range of interests throughout the state and for its "learning by doing" program of adaptive water management. "Working together, we were able to resolve historic conflicts through a holistic approach to resolving Colorado water disputes," Lochhead said. According to John Stulp with Gov. John Hickenlooper's office, the unprecedented water cooperation will also be used as a model for the statewide Colorado Water Plan, set to be ready by December 2014. "Part of the concerns we have, and why we need a water plan, is based on many of the same principles you had in this cooperative agreement," Stulp said at the lunch. "Important … building blocks that went into this cooperative agreement (are) having good people with a broad vision of the future beyond their own community." Some not convinced Still, the agreement hasn't eliminated all controversy. Part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement negotiations is that West Slope parties must agree not to oppose any permits for the Moffat Project, the latest trans-mountain diversion plan to move water from the Fraser watershed to the Denver-metro area. "The bottom line is, the Moffat Project will remove even more water out of the headwaters of the Colorado River and the Fraser (River) in Grand County," said Gary Wockner with the Save the Colorado River Campaign. "You can't make a river healthier by taking water out of it." The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project last week. It's a massive document — the table of contents alone is over 60 pages and Wockner said it has around 11,000 pages total. So far, however, he said he hasn't seen anything in the study to address the negative impacts to river systems in Grand County. Other environmental interests have also said even with the environmental impact statement, the Moffat Project is "far from a done deal." "This project should not be approved unless the long-term health of the river is assured and our nation's environmental standards are met," said McCrystie Adams, a Denver-based attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. "We and our partners are committed to keeping the Colorado River flowing." Geoff Elliott, an earth scientist with the local firm Grand Environmental Services, said Denver Water presented bad data to begin with, stacking the numbers in its favor. "Their data is skewed to show more water in the Fraser Headwaters than now exists," he said. "My problem is no one is doing math. Denver gets out with everything it wants." Elliot said according to his analysis so far, the Moffat Project's proposals compared with U.S. Geological Survey data on actual water flows means it could take 90 percent or more water out of the Fraser. "Now, we get hit by a 12,000-page Final EIS that requires an army to review," he said. "This is Big Brother Denver Water hitting Grand County hard, and we are told we should be happy with vague platitudes, scraps of water and lawyerly agreements for more closed-door meetings." The public comment period for the EIS is open until June 9, but Wockner, Elliot and others with the Save the Colorado River Campaign will ask for an extension so they can conduct a full review. "I expect this controversy to drag on for a long time into the future," Wockner said. Instead of more trans-mountain water diversions, both Elliot and Wockner said they'd like the Front Range to focus on its local water supplies through water conservation, water reuse and water sharing agreements with farmers. "We can't fix the problem by creating another problem by draining our rivers," Wockner said. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.