Historic Water Settlement on Hold for Poudre Headwaters
Parties call Forest Service decision a “missed opportunity”
Contacts: David Nickum 303-440-2937 x101
Dennis Harmon 970-482-3433
(Fort Collins) -- A settlement to one of Colorado’s longest-running water disputes – and the opportunity to launch the largest native trout restoration in Colorado’s history – was dealt a blow by the Forest Service’s refusal to accept a collaborative arrangement for funding the project.
Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) and the Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) last year agreed to settle a long-standing dispute regarding how best to address environmental impacts of the Long Draw Reservoir in the Cache la Poudre headwaters. But the Forest Service on Sept. 3 rejected the cost-sharing arrangement at the heart of the proposal.
The parties based the proposal on a Forest Service concept for restoring native greenback cutthroat trout in 40 miles of the Cache la Poudre headwaters, but they developed a collaborative framework for doing so under which WSSC would provide seed money for the program while CTU and the State of Colorado would leverage that contribution through public and private grants and in-kind contributions. The Forest Service supported the greenback restoration alternative, but rejected the collaborative approach and instead placed full responsibility for the program on WSSC.
“The good news is that the Forest Service, WSSC, and CTU all agreed that restoring native trout in the Poudre headwaters is the right approach to mitigating Long Draw’s impacts,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of CTU. “The bad news is that the Forest Service rejected a carefully crafted proposal that had allowed stakeholders to find common ground after more than 10 years of legal battles. This is a huge missed opportunity.”
Under the proposed collaborative effort, WSSC would take responsibility for reclaiming and restoring native cutthroat trout in Long Draw Reservoir and its tributaries – establishing a large and stable recovery population. WSSC, CTU, and state agencies including the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board would then leverage that contribution to extend restoration into multiple adjacent drainages that could ultimately create a “metapopulation” – a network of native fish populations across a larger watershed that is more resilient and sustainable than small isolated populations. The effort would be the largest native trout restoration project in Colorado’s history and would represent a major step toward recovery and de-listing of greenbacks under the Endangered Species Act.
“We worked diligently to develop the Forest Service’s concept into a balanced, win-win proposal,” said Dennis Harmon, General Manager of WSSC. “We are disappointed and frustrated that the Forest Service has missed this opportunity to resolve the dispute and has instead adopted a decision that will extend the controversy over Long Draw as well as its economic and environmental costs. We simply do not feel that the cost to the company (estimated by the Forest Service at more than $800,000 and maybe much more) to renew a permit for 53 acres around the perimeter of Long Draw Reservoir is appropriate or fair to the Company and its shareholders.”
The Forest Service has an administrative appeal process by which parties can seek reconsideration of agency decisions. Despite the setback posed by the current decision, CTU and WSSC hope to work with the agency through its appeal process to advance a collaborative approach, avert further legal battles, and bring this long conflict to a positive close for the Poudre River and the fish and farmers that rely upon it.
Link to Forest Service decision:
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization, with 140,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.