TU Sues To Protect Fish In Colorado’s Eagle, Fraser Basins
Western Water Project files on St. Louis Creek and Eagle River cases
5/5/1999 — — Boulder, CO – May 5, 1999 – Trout Unlimited (TU) announced today that it has gone to court to protect fisheries in the Eagle and Fraser River basins.
* In the Eagle basin, TU went to water court April 29 to try and block new water withdrawals by Denver Water from Eagle basin streams (including some in a wilderness area) for use on the Front Range.
* In the Fraser basin, TU filed a protest April 21 in a move to prevent the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) from making a 40% reduction in an instream flow appropriation on St. Louis Creek.
The two cases are the first filings TU has made in Colorado under its new Western Water Project. The Project’s goal is to protect and restore instream flows for coldwater fisheries and to increase citizen participation in water management decisions.
In the Eagle basin, TU filed in opposition to Denver Water’s attempt to show “diligence” (or that they are actively developing) conditional water rights related to the Eagle-Piney project, which was originally authorized in 1958. While the project has not yet been built, these conditional rights serve as a place-holder for the project in Colorado’s water rights system. The proposed diversions could significantly harm several tributaries in the Eagle basin as well as reducing flows in the Eagle River itself. The project’s future has come under increasing question, since it relies in part on storage at Two Forks – the reservoir blocked in the early 1990s by the Environmental Protection Agency. Endangered species concerns in the Colorado also make the project less viable.
“Eagle-Piney is a project that should never be built,” said Kelly Custer, staff attorney for TU. “And in light of the Two Forks veto and endangered species problems, we believe it can never be built. It’s time this outdated project is officially laid to rest by the water court.”
St. Louis Creek is a tributary to the Fraser River located on the Arapaho National Forest near Winter Park, and TU’s West Denver Chapter has constructed several habitat improvement projects on the stream. The CWCB filed for instream flow rights on St. Louis Creek in 1990. Recently, however, the CWCB moved to reduce its winter flow appropriation from 5 cubic feet per second (cfs) to only 3 cfs, arguing that water was not available to support the greater instream flow. Gaging records for the stream, however, clearly show that water is available for the greater instream flow right. Moreover, the proposed 3 cfs winter flow meets none of the biological criteria normally used by the Division of Wildlife in recommending minimum stream flows. TU opposes the reduction in the instream flow right – particularly as it comes during the winter months, which are already a limiting period for trout.
“We believe that the CWCB should not be negotiating away their instream flow rights, especially when the facts support their original applications,” said David Nickum, executive director for Colorado TU. “We hope this protest will encourage them to stand more firmly behind their appropriations, not only in the Fraser basin but statewide.”
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. The Western Water Project was launched in 1998 by Trout Unlimited and WaterWatch of Oregon in an effort to protect stream flows for fish and increase public participation in water management. The Colorado office of the Western Water Project opened in Boulder in June 1998, and recently expanded its staff with the addition of a second attorney.