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Ending a Rocky Mountain ‘Family Feud’

New environmental alliance aims to let no voice go unheard in protecting the Grand County waterways.

Not so long ago, it looked like the water feud between the Front Range and the West Slope might carry on forever — a Rocky Mountain version of the Hatfields vs. McCoys, or the Montagues vs. Capulets.

Williams Fork Reservoir in Grand County.

“The traditional approach was for the West Slope and the East Slope to just fight with each other,” Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead recently told Lance Maggart of Grand County’s Ski-High News. “We would litigate and argue. But there is no benefit to the environment from us just arguing.”

Now, as 2016 kicks off, the conflict appears to be receding, though the issues remain. Water is simply too precious a resource for there not to be concerns over where it all goes, and to whom.

But something has changed. Confrontation is getting shoved aside by collaboration.

In 2013, after more than five years of negotiations, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was formally signed by 18 entities, including Denver Water, Grand County, Summit County and the Colorado River District.

As part of the CRCA, Denver Water, Grand County and other West Slope parties joined together to create the Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (or Learning By Doing, for short), “to maintain, and where reasonably possible, restore or enhance” the aquatic environment of Grand County.

The members of the Learning by Doing management committee underscore their commitment to collaboration. The committee consists of the following groups:

“Learning By Doing is really a complete paradigm shift,” Lochhead told Maggart.

Paula Daukas, Denver Water’s manager of environmental planning, added that the alliance provides “added flexibility when future environmental needs arise on the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado river basins. This new collaborative approach will make sure no voices go unheard when important decisions about the rivers are needed.”

CDOT crews remove sediment from the recently reconstructed Fraser River diversion pond in Grand County.

Denver Water jumped in early by providing $50,000 to a Fraser River diversion pond project in 2011 and another $50,000 to the Grand County’s Fraser Flats Habitat Project, scheduled for this fall.

The group technically becomes official once Denver Water receives the required permits to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, with the greatest benefits coming with the conclusion of the five-year expansion project.

“It’s really a capacity issue,” Daukas said. “Once we have the added flexibility of a larger Gross Reservoir, we will be able to move more water from different areas as needed, depending on the specific needs of the environment at that time.”

Those are the decisions Learning By Doing will make as a group, with Grand County’s best interests at heart. And that’s really the point.

“Grand County is special to residents and visitors alike because of its incredible outdoor quality of life, including its rivers and streams and world-class trout fishing,” said Mely Whiting, Trout Unlimited legal counsel, in the Maggart article. “If we want to preserve that quality of life we have to be good stewards of our rivers. Learning By Doing provides a way to work together toward that community goal.”

Learning By Doing recently launched a new website and created a video,which you can check out below.