Moffat Project: asks Army Corp in permit to include commitments made by Denver Water

June 10, 2014

 On June 8, 2014 CWF requested that the permit by Army Corps of Engineers for Denver Water's Moffat project include the commitments made by Denver Water re the Fraser and Upper Colorado Rivers.

Below is the text of the CWF letter:

June 8, 2014

 Rena Brand, Moffat EIS Project Manager

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Denver Regulatory Office

9307 South Wadsworth Blvd.

Littleton, CO  80128-6901

Copy via email:  moffat.eis@usace.army.mil

Re:   Moffat Collection System Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)        and Section 404 Permit

 Dear Ms. Brand:

I am providing comments on behalf of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, which is the oldest fish and wildlife conservation organization in the state.  Since 1953 we have promoted proper management of fish and wildlife resources and adequate mitigation of water development impacts to those resources.  We have been involved with the subject project for several years.  Therefore, we request your consideration of these comments in addition to those provided on the draft EIS.

Denver Water and the Corps have made significant improvements in the analysis of impacts and the quality of the recommended mitigation factors.  We appreciate those efforts.  However, we remain concerned about stream temperatures, hydrology, sediment management, and the resultant impacts on the trout fishery habitat in the Fraser and Upper Colorado Rivers. 

Table 5 in Section 2.3 of Denver Water’s Conceptual Plan, which is the basis for most of the mitigation described in the FEIS, states that Denver Water will monitor stream temperatures and will bypass up to 250 AF of water when standards are exceeded.  In addition, they would provide up to $750,000 for stream restoration in the Fraser and upper Williams Fork River. 

Table 9 in Section 2.5 of that report also includes a temperature management proposal for the Upper Colorado River.  Section 3.0 of the Plan commits to additional high temperature triggers and stream protection.  Denver Water stated that “These commitments will be incorporated as Section 404 permit conditions for the Moffat Project.”  We were pleased to see those commitments and support their position that the commitments be included in the permit so that they can be enforced in the future if needed.  It also is important to monitor and report on the water temperatures for the life of the project because climate change may exacerbate the problematic temperature situation. 

We strongly support the real time stream gauging and temperature monitoring that has been proposed.  However, this data must be made readily accessible to the public.  Often dedicated fly anglers who know these streams can detect subtle problems with the fish before the temperatures reach acute standards, and they could report their concerns to the appropriate parties.  They could also see if their concerns were consistent with the monitoring data.

 We also are concerned that the Corps continues to use inaccurate and inadequate hydrological and sediment modeling to assess flow needs for flushing, sediment management, and streambed and bank structure.  We recognize the Corps attempted to improve its hydrological models and collected additional sediment data. However, the analysis is still flawed in our opinion and does not evaluate whether known flushing flow needs will be met. 

Therefore, we request that the Corps update its hydrological analyses using the current and applicable information in the scientifically sound report entitled “Evaluation of Flushing Flows in the Fraser River and its Tributaries”.  The report was released by Colorado State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering on September 19, 2013, and the research leader was Professor Brian P. Bledsoe, Ph.D., who is a recognized expert in this subject.  We share Trout Unlimited’s concern that the final EIS is unreliable as a tool to predict impacts to the most affected  streams and that monitoring and adaptive management is essential for the project to move forward.

After reviewing the draft EIS, Denver Water’s proposed mitigation plan, and related information,  Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Wildlife Federation and others remained concerned the mitigation would not fully address project impacts.  Subsequently, Denver Water cooperatively entered into a “Learning by Doing” (LBD) interagency agreement with Grand County, the River District, and Middle Park.  As described in the Conceptual Mitigation Plan, the explicit purpose of the LBD is “to maintain and where possible, restore or enhance the condition of the aquatic environment in Grand County.” This process is actually a type of adaptive management planning, which is used to deal with unanticipated impacts, which in turn could require additional mitigation efforts and funding.

The LBD process will include the very important evaluation of the adequacy of the proposed flushing flows and the monitoring of water temperatures, channel stability and sediment, benthic microinvertebrates (important fish food), and affected riparian areas and wetlands.  We are supportive of this effort and will appreciate dedicated and cooperative participation by Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others.  We believe that effective implementation of LBD will be crucial for preventing stream ecosystems like the Fraser River from reaching and passing an ecological “tipping point”.  The Corps FEIS recognizes this is a potential problem.  Based upon my experience as a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, recovery of such severely impacted ecosystems can be difficult if not impossible to restore.

 Therefore, we request the Corps permit include a Section 404 permit condition requiring Denver Water to be committed to this process, as they have agreed to do.  They should be required to submit periodic reports to the Corps, which also are available to the public, that describe environmental problems that have arisen as well as actions proposed or taken to resolve those problems.  At the very least, we recommend the Corps Record of Decision identify that the dedicated participation of Denver Water in the LBD is a key part of achieving adequate and timely mitigation.  If the process fails, it must be replaced with a substitute acceptable to the Corps and the LBD participants.

 Thank you for the opportunity to comment.  If you have questions, feel free to contact me via email at wetlandsandwater@comast.net or (303) 627-0997.

 

Dennis G. Buechler

Board Member and Past President

cc:       Chair, Denver Water Board

            County Manager, Grand County

            Mayor, City of Fraser, CO

            TU State and Headwaters Chapters

            Colorado Parks and Wildlife

            Region 8, Environmental Protection Agency

 

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