If you see a lost-looking trout walking the streets of downtown Denver in coming weeks, don't be alarmed. He's just looking for some water. Any water.
We recently filmed this trout's sad dilemma. Left high and dry in the Fraser Valley, where Denver Water is sucking the life out of the Fraser River and its tributaries, our refugee trout hitchhiked to Denver to try to find out who moved his water and where he can get a few drops.
Check out the short video below -- it's a lighthearted effort to highlight a serious problem: Denver Water is diverting the Fraser River to death:
You might not know that much of Denver's water comes from across the Continental Divide, in Grand County, where the Moffat pipeline each year drains 60 percent of the Fraser River, leaving dozens of tributaries sucked completely dry. Denver Water's proposed expansion of that pipeline would take another 15 percent of flows, leaving an already damaged river on life support.
For many Denver residents, the recreation opportunities available in our mountain backyard are a major reason why we live here. I know I want my children to be able to grow up enjoying the Fraser River just as I've been lucky to do.
It's not just trout and wildlife at risk -- our mountain towns and state tourism economy are also threatened. If you love to fish, ski, raft, hike, camp or otherwise recreate in the mountains, this hits you where you live.
We simply can't keep sucking the lifeblood out of the Fraser and expect it to remain a living river.
If Denver Water is to move forward with the Moffat expansion, they must take steps to ensure it is done in a way that won't destroy the Fraser River. They can avoid taking too much water at times of high temperature, when it would be lethal to fish that require clean, cold water to survive. Periodic high-flow "flushes" can be used to clean out silt that otherwise chokes the life from the river. And Denver needs to carefully monitor river health and take additional steps as needed in the future to prevent further declines.
So far, Denver Water has refused to make even these modest, reasonable commitments to ensure the survival of the Fraser River.
Other utilities get it. In late 2012, Trout Unlimited, Grand County, and local landowners reached agreement with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District on a package of protections for the Upper Colorado River to offset the impacts of their proposed Windy Gap pipeline expansion. To their credit, Northern stepped up and did the right thing for the river -- as a result, Trout Unlimited can now support that "smart" water project.
Unfortunately, we can't say the same for Denver Water. For months, a coalition of conservation organizations, landowners, and recreation businesses have been calling on Denver Water to take a few responsible, cost-effective steps to protect the Fraser.
They're not listening.
This is where you come in. Denver Water hasn't been listening -- but they will listen to their customers. We need Denver-area residents -- and anyone who cares about Colorado's rivers and wild places -- to tell Denver Water that you want them to "finish the job" of protecting the Fraser River.
Please go to the Defend the Colorado webpage to sign a petition asking Denver Water board members to protect the Fraser. We know they will respond to public pressure -- but that means you need to take a few minutes and sign the petition. It will make a difference for the Fraser River and for our homeless trout, but only if you act now.
Denver Water is betting that Denver water users won't know enough or care enough to demand a higher level of river stewardship.
Prove them wrong. Do something good for our rivers today. Sign the petition and tell Denver Water: Don't Suck, Protect the Fraser River.
David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, which has 10,000 members in Colorado.