There is no larger challenge facing those who love Middle Park more than managing the water remaining in the headwaters of the Colorado River as the last drops are allocated to the 40 million people this beleaguered watercourse serves.  We need to identify a predictable funding source to manage reduced flows and to protect minimum stream flows needed to provide habitat for wildlife dependent on precious water in our semi-arid basin.

I serve as a board member on one group which I believe holds the best promise for finding this funding source – the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group. UCRWG is charged with facilitating the cooperation of a myriad of water agencies both advocating for and charged with using water from the Colorado River headwaters. Grand County was named for and has borders defined by the upper reaches of the river known as the Grand River before became the Colorado.

My board believes we should investigate the levying of an “impact fee” on water leaving this basin through man-made diversions – mainly the Moffat collection system (Denver Water) and the Alva B. Adams Tunnel (the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District).  A relatively small fee would add a very few dollars to the water bills of users on the eastern slope to fund management of reduced stream flows in the basin and also help protect the quality of water these agencies divert – directly benefiting those paying the impact fee.

Eastern slope residents not only depend on our water, they also enjoy playing in the mountain parklands we are entrusted with maintaining.  Water is literally the lifeblood of our shared backyard.

Historically Eastern Slope interests have fought tooth and nail against western slope efforts to preserve water sources.  In fact, the only thing preventing the Moffat Firming project – a plan to take the last of the 90% of local water owned by Denver Water and Northern – from realization is a suit launched by the largely eastern slope based environmental group Save the Colorado River.

I believe an impact fee can be “sold” to local agencies and the big diverters on the eastern side – both for the reasons discussed but more importantly because of the seldom mentioned monster Vampire downstream who will suck the last of our lifeblood away if we don’t join forces in the face of a common threat.

The Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922 allocating water to the five basin states.  The total amount available was calculated during relatively wet years – meaning there is simply not enough water to satisfy this agreement. Witness Lakes Mead and Powell, the later last filled in 1980.  The reality is we must have substantial money for legal help and in-depth data on flows and water quality or we will lose the last of our water to our downstream neighbors.

I respect previous agreements concerning diversions – including those fought for during the Firming negotiations.  But we must recognize the amount of funds gained during these negotiations for stream mitigation work will not meet on-going requirements for preserving the quality of our watershed.

The costs of diversion are real, and should be covered by those taking the water out of its natural basin. Fraser valley waste water boards are spending $6 million and hiring a new full time waste water operator to deal with removing copper – purely because there is not enough water remaining in the river to dilute it.  Large swaths of dead trees are being cut to protect us from wildfires to and offer some hope of preserving surface water quality after a fire denudes the landscape. These cuts, already being overwhelmed by re-growth of jackstraw Lodgepole stands will need ongoing maintenance – and more dead trees need to be cut.

Low flows means streams and rivers need willow plantings for shade to combat increasing water temperatures.  Meanders and banks need modifications to provide shelter for spawning fish. Our local streams are already classified as degraded; the next step down in the classification constitutes a lifeless nearly dry watercourse.

Denver water diversion points are still managed with manually operated gates, managed by ditch runners.  The agency and local streams need a modernized mechanically and computer operated system which can deliver carefully orchestrated flows.  Data from these devices can help us produce the records needed to protect water from over allocation. This data will help both eastern slope diverters and local agencies during upcoming struggles with the “Vampire” downstream

Many argue the water is owned by Denver and other diverters, there is nothing we can do to fight for what remains.  There are environmental regulations (some of which will hopefully survive the current onslaught) which prevent a watershed from being degraded.  We need detailed data to make our case.

The expensive laundry list goes on, including just the work needed to develop this list.  The millions generated from an impact fee can ensure we meet these challenges.

UCRWG needs your help.  A grant from the Bureau of Reclamation and hard work from a group of citizens started this critical agency, but if we don’t gain local contributions, proving local support, this group may disappear.  Your donations will ensure UCRWG can gain matching funds for many excellent funding sources. Eventually UCRWG will become self-supporting through the use of impact fees. Water users should pay for water impacts.

There is talk of re-naming the Fraser River, Fraser Creek.  Really. Are we giving up on our valley’s centerpiece? I hope not.  Please contribute and help keep a group going which offers a realistic way to “Save the Fraser River” and its big brother – the Colorado.