Denver Water announced Friday it received its final federal approval to pursue the largest construction project in Boulder County history with its planned expansion of Gross Reservoir.
If completed, the enlargement would help continue to serve Denver’s growing population amid climate change that is clouding future supply with uncertainty, the agency’s leader said.
“Expanding Gross Reservoir is a critical project to ensure a secure water supply for nearly a quarter of the state’s population. The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead stated in a news release. “We are seeing extreme climate variability and that means we need more options to safeguard a reliable water supply for 1.5 million people in Denver Water’s service area.”
While the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission means no more federal agencies have to take a look at the plans, Boulder County still wants to perform its own review, resulting in a litigious response from Denver Water.
An opening brief is due in August for the water agency’s appeal of a Boulder District Court decision that affirmed the county’s ability to review the project under what is known as local government 1041 power, which could result in its ultimate official disapproval by local leaders, or not, if they allow it to move forward.
“We think that it was a well-reasoned decision from the district court and we have strong arguments in defense of the appeal,” Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said. “It’s not uncommon for local governments to use 1041 powers in review of major projects by other governments.”
Expanding Gross required the federal energy commission’s approval to amend Denver Water’s hydroelectric license.
Beverly Kurtz, a resident of the area and president of The Environmental Group, a nonprofit in a coalition of environmentalists opposed to the project, is fighting against its approval.
“We are reviewing the license approval and have already found severe deficiencies,” Kurtz wrote in an email. “Our coalition intends to fight this project to the end. We continue to engage in legal challenges at the County and Federal level, and we rely on the Boulder County Commissioners to continue to enforce the requirement for compliance with Colorado Statute 1041.”
The Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement, that Kurtz said the energy agency signed off on as part of its review, was “deeply flawed,” she said, adding that the stated purpose of the project is “completely invalid.”
“Denver Water stated that they needed the project to provide more water to address population growth in their customer base. Per their own data, although the population is increasing, due to conservation efforts water use is decreasing. They do not need the water as stated,” Kurtz wrote.
Denver Water touted that the project has the support of environmental groups such as Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates. It also said it has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that will create new habitat and water flow protections for rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide.
“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, stated in the news release. “We will continue to seek community input on topics such as traffic control plans, hauling traffic schedules, tree removal plans and other construction-related activities.”
The design phase for the Gross expansion is expected to finish by the middle of next year, followed by four years of construction, if approved. It will involve raising the existing 340-foot Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, increasing reservoir capacity by 77,000 acre-feet, and it will include 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the Boulder and Lafayette city governments. Raising the capacity of Gross was a recommendation of environmentalists as an alternative to building a new dam, a proposal that would have created Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s, the release said.
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