From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Utility says Gross expansion needed for water security for 1.5 million people
Denver Water has been awarded its final federal permit for expansion of Gross Reservoir but may still need a permit from Boulder County.
A permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced today wraps up all the federal permitting needed to raise the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam across South Boulder Creek by 131 feet.
The dam has a hydro plant with a capacity of producing up to 7.6 megawatts.
But the most difficult permit may be the one that it still lacks: a 1041 permit from Boulder County. The Boulder Daily Camera explains that a district court decision affirmed the county’s authority to review the project under a 1973 law. That law, commonly known by his legislative bill title, gives local governments land use authority to review major projects by other governments.
Eagle County used that same authority in 1991 to deny a permit sought by Aurora and Colorado Springs to conduct a major water diversion project from within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Minturn and Red Cliff. The two Front Range cities fought the denial but lost and ultimately participated in a collaborative process designed to produce a more acceptable solution. That process is ongoing, with many opposed to the lighter, gentler approach. But by any measure, the current proposal in the Homestake Valley would have much less impact upon the wilderness area .
This case of Gross Dam is different in that the water being diverted only passes through Boulder County. The water would come from Grand County via the Moffat Tunnel. The county itself signed off on the expansion after a lengthy collaborative process that was in many ways modeled after what was created in the wake of the Homestake II denial.
Denver Water in this case committed to a collaborative process called Learning by Doing. The intent is to allow Denver to use its water rights in the Fraser Valley and also in the adjoining Williams Fork Valley but in ways that avoid the harshest of impacts.
The process earned Denver the support of Trout Unlimited, and also some fierce Denver critics such as Kirk Klancke, a Fraser Valley resident.
But some Fraser Valley residents continue to oppose the project. “We don’t have any more water to send to Denver,” says Andy Miller, a Fraser town trustee, as elected members of the governing council are known. “With the water that is being diverted now, we are barely keeping the system alive.”
Miller said additional diversions would mean that at times the only water in the Fraser River will be the releases from the wastewater treatment plants in Winter Park and Fraser. “That’s not enough,” says Miller, a member of the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group.
Denver began pursuing the expansion of the dam after the drought of 2002 exposed the vulnerability of water delivery to Arvada and other suburbs in the northwest metropolitan area that contract with Denver Water for supplies. The next year, Denver began the federal environmental permitting process. Denver already received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.
Colorado’s largest water provider, Denver Water provides water not just for the city’s residents but a broad swath of the metropolitan area, a quarter of the state’s 5.8 million residents.
In a statement, Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, said the FERC permit—it’s technically called an order—brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process to a close.
Lochhead also characterized the project as a necessary given the increasing weather variability in a warming climate.
“The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population. 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,” he said.
From The Boulder Daily Camera (Sam Lounsberry):
Denver Water announced Friday it earned its final federal approval to pursue the largest construction project in the history of Boulder County with its planned Gross Reservoir expansion.
If completed, the enlargement would help continue to serve a growing population in the water provider’s jurisdiction amid climate change that is clouding future supply with uncertainty, [Jim Lochhead] said…
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…
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.
From The Associated Press via KUNC:
Even with federal approval, Boulder County still wants to conduct its own review under local government 1041 power, that could result in the project’s ultimate official disapproval by local leaders.
“We think that it was a well-reasoned decision from the district court and we have strong arguments in defense of the appeal,” 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.”
Denver Water is expecting to appeal the county’s decision and provide an opening brief in August.
From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):
In 2018, some environmental groups sued three U.S. government agencies in an effort to stop the expansion. They argued that it would harm aquatic life and wildlife as well as hinder streamflows, adding that the Colorado River needs to be better protected…
Lochhead has said that Denver Water will only take extra water from tributaries during wet years, avoiding periods of drought.
It’s been a long road for the utility, which began the permitting process for the expansion seventeen years ago. Denver Water plans to finish the design next year, followed by four years of construction.