Thank you for your work to explain the complexity of North Fork of the South Platte River flows, and how those flows are governed, to the readers of The Flume (Competing interests collide on the North Fork of the South Platte River, May 9 issue).
We especially appreciate you devoting several paragraphs in your story to our response to your questions about how we manage those flows. I enjoyed talking to you a couple times over the phone for your story and appreciated your professional approach and sincere interest in Denver Water’s perspective.
Unfortunately, we were disappointed in the characterization of how and why Denver Water operates the Roberts Tunnel. The story says “those decisions are made almost exclusively by Denver Water,” and goes on to say “(Denver Water) also states clearly that its policies are governed by what is in the best interests of customers residing within their service area, long-standing contracts with Western Slope entities and decrees and obligations stemming from state water laws.
“Denver Water expresses regrets that their policies might negatively impact those within The Flume coverage area, but maintains that its business interests, by necessity, trump those concerns.”
Our statement explained, to the contrary, that the flows through the Roberts Tunnels are determined not by “decisions,” or “policies” or “contracts” or “the best interests of customers” (your words), but by “legal obligations and decrees tied to Colorado water law and binding agreements with West Slope communities where the water from the tunnel originates.”
In short, the language in the story suggests that Denver Water’s ability to turn the Roberts Tunnel on and off is (simply) a matter of agency policy, or contracts that, apparently, could be readily rewritten or set aside.
In fact, the determination is not one of policy, but of law. Denver Water doesn’t have the latitude the story implies to turn the tunnel on and off to benefit flows in the North Fork. We are compelled to abide by Colorado Water Law and the associated legal decrees and the binding agreements tied to those decrees and laws.
Additionally, the story makes graphic reference to “fish kills” and associated “incalculable” blows to the Park County economy. It then goes on to state: “Water flow in the river is dependent upon how much water is released from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts Tunnel, and those decisions are made almost exclusively by Denver Water.”
In fact, flows in the North Fork of the South Platte are dependent on mother nature. The North Fork, like all Front Range streams, flowed erratically long before the existence of trans-mountain diversions from the West Slope. The construction of Dillon Reservoir in 1963 did not carve out the North Fork.
And had the reservoir never been constructed, the fishery on the North Fork, with all of its seasonal ups and downs and impacts from century-old mining operations, would exist all the same, and the flows would depend, as they often do today, on natural runoff within the North Fork watershed.
Finally, when Denver Water delivers water through Roberts Tunnel, it tries to voluntarily re-time those operations to enhance North Fork flows for Bailey Day, an important celebration to Park County and the Bailey area economy.
Again, we appreciate that you reached out to us and that you are covering these important issues. I just write this to you to express our disappointment with the fact that many readers will come away from this story with the impression that impacts to the fishery, the outfitters and the environment are wholly the responsibility of, and under the control of, Denver Water. In fact, Roberts Tunnel releases are not a matter of policy, agency decisions or “business interests,” but of law.
Thanks for taking the time to hear us out.