Denver Water reaches Gross Reservoir settlement, but #water supply concerns remain — The #Denver Post #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents

The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…

Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.

Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.

“We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.

Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

“This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.

Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…

  • Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
  • Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
  • Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
  • Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
  • Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.

    “We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…

    Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…

    [David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.

    The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.

    “I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

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