The 15-Mile Reach is a stretch of the Colorado River that starts east of Grand Junction and stretches to the confluence with the Gunnison River just west of town. This is a sensitive stretch of a hard working river—forty million people in the Southwestern U.S. rely on the Colorado River as a primary source of drinking water in addition to extensive agricultural and industrial uses, and the 15-Mile Reach is home to four federally endangered fish species–the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail, and Razorback Sucker.
The 15-Mile Reach is known for declining river flows as a result of high demand on its water supply, which negatively impacts fish habitat. During spring, when irrigation diversions begin but temperatures and snowpack runoff remain low, flows can dip to levels that threaten these fish. Because it’s on the Colorado main stem, and because of the biological resources it contains, people have been trying to keep this stretch of river flowing at healthy levels for a long time.
The Colorado Water Trust (CWT), Grand Valley Water Users Association, and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District are working together to improve the habitat of the Colorado River’s endangered fish at critical times of the year. Together with the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Fish Recovery program, they designed an agreement to allow CWT to secure water from upstream sources and deliver it to the Grand Valley Power Plant to produce hydropower. Once the water has cycled through the plant, it will be released back to the 15-Mile Reach during critical times to support the native endangered fish species. Not only will there be benefits for the fish and their habitat, but the Grand Valley Power Plant will generate additional revenue for operations as a result of this innovative agreement.
* Project supports voluntary transactions to change, reduce or stop water use – either temporarily or permanently – to protect or restore water for environmental benefit