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Lose a Dam on One River, Get a New One on Another...

From a long time friend from Colorado, I got an email today where he has expressed is deep concern over the proposal to put a new hydro power dam in on Uncompaghre River in Colorado. It seems as though lessons learned from what has been done in the past just don't resonate across more than a couple hundred miles as the Bureau of Reclamation is coming very close to preliminary approval of this project with very little or no scientific research on the affects to the habitat surrounding this project. Here is the proposal:

http://www.usbr.gov/uc/envdocs/ea/SoCanal/draftEA.pdf

Below is the response from our friend:

Mr. Steve McCall,

After my original e-mail to you from this a.m. voicing my opposition to the Delta Montrose Electrical Association (DMEA) proposed hydroelectric project to be constructed on the South Canal just east of Montrose, I've had a chance to review the draft environmental assessment on line at the above address. I wanted to be sure this e-mail reaches you before the Monday deadline for comment and also be sure my CC’ed are aware of this.

Section SCOPING outlines the open process to determine issues and alternatives to be addressed in the EA. The EA highlights a meeting held on March 9, 2011 in Montrose. In the summary listing of issues brought up during the scoping by individuals, organizations and agencies, the third item noted in summary questions the impact on the South Canal and the Uncompahgre River with regards to diverted fish out of the Gunnison River, people who fish these waters, fish entering the Uncompahgre River, etc. "How will all this be affected?"

The fourth comment states "Consider screening fish from entering Gunnison Tunnel; provide stocking of Uncompahgre River to offset losses from South Canal activities"

Moving forward to the FISHERIES chapter, there is a lot of discussion regarding loss of fish from the Gunnison River fishery to the South Canal and Uncompahgre River throughout the chapter. In the second paragraph there is documentation of fish sampling. The second to the last and last sentence in the paragraph reads "Numerous young of the year rainbow fry were sampled but not included in the population estimate. It is not known if the fry result from spawning in the canal or in the Gunnison River (Kowalski 2011)." The discussion that it is not known if the fish spawn in the South Canal is critical. I would think that this is an important biological fact to understand much more in that if we are going to allow the construction of the hydroelectric plant(s) / structure(s) and install electronic fish screening equipment to detour fish from entering the South Canal / Uncompahgre River and eliminate the presence of these fry from the Uncompahgre River system, we need specific science to understand the impact to the existing Uncompahgre fishery and a specific plan on how that impact will be mitigated. Not just an “economic assessment based on dollars and cents” as presented in the chapter.

The City of Montrose alone has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Uncompahgre River anchored parks in which quality fishing is a large part of the recreational activities available at these parks. Not to mention upstream and downstream users and property owners that would be negatively affected by this project moving forward as proposed. Not just due to reduced fishing quality but also lost property values. Injury to the existing fishery’s at all locations in and downstream of the South Canal without good science and a solid mitigation plan is quite simply irresponsible on the part of any participant in this project.

Further, I challenge the wording in the chapter of fish from the Gunnison River being “lost” to the South Canal and the Uncompahgre River. If one knows the local rive systems one knows the Uncompahgre River joins the lower Gunnison River at Confluence Park in Delta, thereby the opportunity for the fish to be re-introduced into the Gunnison River is real and most probably happens often. This is truly critical if the fry are re-introduced quite possibly immune to whirling disease which in the last 15-20 years has devastated the Gunnison River fishery. But unless I’ve missed something I do not believe we have answers to those types of questions.

Last, the south canal was constructed in the early 1900's. I would have to believe there is some legal precedent which would be injured irreparably if this project moves forward without further consideration and a mitigation plan of the affected fishery.

I do not feel that the fishery issues have even begun to be addressed in the draft Environmental Assessment. I see no discussion of any vehicle to be considered that would allow fish from the Gunnison River to continue to enter the South Canal. All I read is how the Gunnison River fishery will be positively improved and a small discussion of how the Uncompahgre River system will negatively affected.

I do want to state I am in no way opposed to renewable energy source projects. I am however, opposed for them to be allowed to move forward irresponsibly. Quite frankly, this Environmental Assessment is no where near ready for the Bureau of Reclamation to issue a “Finding of No Significant Impact”.

There must be some sort of balance in the hydro power world where if we take a dam out somewhere, we must put another in some place else...this sucks!

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