Moffat Collection System Project will impact forest surrounding existing Gross Reservoir

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to rule early next year on what would be the biggest public works project in Boulder County history, exceeding the original construction of the Gross Reservoir Dam, which was completed in 1954.

The tree removal plan outlined in Denver Water’s FERC application states that all trees and their associated debris on about 430 acres along 12.5 miles of shoreline will have to be removed in the course of the expansion, which is envisioned as being completed by 2025.

Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said the agency has estimated that “the density of the forest ranges from approximately 150 to 1,800 trees per acre. Based on these initial plans, we estimate up to 650,000 trees will need to be removed in the area surrounding Gross Reservoir.”

In a recent interview, Denver Water President Jim Lochhead vowed that every aspect of the project’s completion is being designed and executed with an eye toward mitigation of its impacts on the high country environment and those who depend on it for their recreation or call it home.

“We recognize that this is a major construction project and it has adverse impacts to the community,” said Lochhead, whose utility serves 1.4 million in Denver and many of its suburbs — but not Boulder County.

“We are trying to understand exactly what those impacts are, and see what the needs of the community are, and do everything we can to help address them.”

Referencing project manager Jeff Martin, Lochhead said, “Whether it’s traffic, hauling on the roads, whether it’s noise associated with the quarry, whether it’s the tree removal issues, it’s Jeff’s job to make sure it goes in a way that we’re doing the best that we can by the local community.”

Martin said: “We recognize the brutal aspects of the project. We don’t want to hide from those. That’s not our objective.”

Stressing that Denver Water intends to factor the concerns of reservoir neighbors into its planning of what’s officially known as the Moffat Collection System Project, Martin said, “We look forward to getting that feedback, seeing how we can make it into the most palatable project we can, and turn it into, maybe not reducing all the impacts, but for the greater good, reducing them as much as we can.”

[…]

A 48-page plan for the required tree removal prepared by Denver Water describes a mix of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Rocky Mountain juniper.

According to data the agency compiled in 2005, most of the trees at that time were 20 to 50 feet high, with a breast-high diameter ranging from 4 to 14 inches.

“Because of the topography, e.g., very steep slopes, rock outcrops, etc., several more complex tree removal (logging) systems will need to be used, and some temporary roads will need to be constructed to remove the trees,” the plan states.

It estimates that 50,000 tons of forest biomass are expected to be produced during the required clearing for the expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is to see its dam raised by 131 feet, expanding the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre feet to a total storage capacity of 118,811 acre feet.

While noting that, “Traditionally, most of the slash would have been piled and burned in place,” the plan acknowledges that, “Today, burning large quantities of forest residue, in close proximity to residential areas, is problematic in the extreme.”

Allen Owen, Boulder District forester for the Colorado State Forest Service — a contracted forest resource management partner to Denver Water through the Forests to Faucets program — said he had been unaware of the number of trees Denver Water is planning to pull out of the Gross Reservoir area, or that it will involve the leveling of all growth on 430 acres of shoreline.

He doubts it would actually reach the 650,000 figure.

“That would mean 1,500 trees per acre over the entire 430-acre unit, and I know that’s not the case,” he said. “The stand densities vary all around the perimeter of the shoreline. There are areas that are nothing but solid rock, with no vegetation on it, to units that may have those number of trees. But there are not that many trees over the entire 430 acres. The number seems high.”

Owen expects state foresters will be involved in plotting how the trees’ removal proceeds.

“It’s something way beyond the ability of the Colorado State Forest Service,” he said. “I would consider that a big logging job, on very steep slopes, with very poor access. It is going to be very difficult, at best.”

Martin discussed three different potential scenarios, including removal by truck, burning and burial of felled lumber, or some combination of those strategies.

In cases where trees are located on small rock bluffs, Denver Water’s current removal plan notes, “the use of helicopter may be necessary.”

Denver Water believes new emerging technologies may pose options for removal that weren’t contemplated when its plan was authored.

“One of the things we’ve committed to is developing a process with public input … going out and getting some public input and some stakeholder input and that includes the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado state forester and Boulder County, and developing some concepts … and then seeing what fits best for the community from there, and then moving forward with the plan,” Martin said…

Denver Water points to steps it is taking to mitigate the effects of construction wherever possible, and also emphasizes measures that it contends offers some in Boulder County a benefit. Lochhead and Martin touted the provision of a 5,000-square-foot environmental pool in the expanded reservoir, to be available for replenishing South Boulder Creek for the benefit of both Boulder and Lafayette at times when it is running dangerously low.

“That’s kind of a neat partnership there,” Lochhead said.

That does not mean that Boulder supports the Gross Reservoir expansion — but nor does it oppose it.

“Boulder has a neutral position on the overall expansion,” said Boulder’s source water administrator, Joanna Bloom.

“If the project somehow falls apart, then Boulder will continue to try to establish the streamflows on South Boulder Creek through other means,” Bloom said…

Boulder County’s stance on the expansion is more complicated.

The county filed extensive comments on both the draft and final environmental impact statements in the Army Corps of Engineers’ review process, and doesn’t agree that the EIS adequately addressed “the myriad of impacts” that would result for Boulder County and its citizens.

On March 23, the county filed an unopposed motion to intervene in the FERC approval process. One of the points the county addressed at length in that intervention relates to tree removal — and its arguments are based on the presumption of a far more modest, but still significant, removal of trees, at a total of 200,000.

“County roads (Flagstaff Road, Magnolia Road and others) are windy with low volume residential traffic and would be inappropriate for use by trucks hauling trees,” the county argued.

“In addition, it may not be possible to safely navigate SH 72 with trucks full of trees. These heavily laden trucks will cause damage to the roads and present safety concerns for road users.”

Moreover, the county contends Denver Water’s project must come through its land use review process, while the utility maintains that the county’s role is superseded by the FERC review process.

Until that conflict is resolved, the county is tempering its remarks, pro or con, on the Gross Reservoir project, so that it will not be seen as having prejudged any application Denver Water might make in the future through the county’s land review process.

Martin recalled that Denver Water worked extensively with Boulder County in 2012 exploring a potential intergovernmental agreement to facilitate the reservoir expansion.

While such a pact was ultimately rejected by Boulder County commissioners by a 3-0 vote, Martin said, “What we did receive was a lot of information from Boulder County and the public on how we need to shape the project in order to meet the needs of both the community and Boulder County.”

However, independent of the environmentalists’ planned federal lawsuit, there might be a need for another judge to sort out the critical question of whether Denver Water’s plans for tree removal and many other aspects of its reservoir expansion must pass through the county’s land use review process.

“I would say that it is likely that it will take litigation, because neither party is willing to give up its position,” said Conrad Lattes, assistant county attorney for Boulder County. “We need some neutral third party to decide this for us.”

However, on a warm and sunny day back before the chill of approaching winter descended on Colorado’s high country, Denver Water’s brass were flush with optimism.

Martin said that for Denver Water, it’s not just about getting the project done.

“We’re also looking at the social responsibility,” he said, “making sure that when it’s said and done, that we did it in the right way; that we could look back and say we did everything within reason and practicality to make this really the most environmentally, socially responsible project we can.”

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

Speed dating for science – News on TAP

Six of Denver Water’s female leaders met with Denver-area high school young women, providing insights into STEM careers.

Source: Speed dating for science – News on TAP

Proposed Climax molybdenum limits, “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” — CDPHE

Frozen mists over the Blue River Valley turn the sun into a diamond — Bob Berwyn

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

CDPHE scientists warn Climax Mine molybdenum may pose health risk, oppose company push to raise statewide pollution limit

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment water-quality scientists said, in a recommendation to state commissioners, that Climax Molybdenum’s proposed hike “would be acutely lethal to aquatic life” and probably not protective of people.

A Climax report on molybdenum exposures in Colorado “demonstrates that current levels of molybdenum in drinking water may pose a public health risk to communities downstream” of the mine, CDPHE scientists said in filings reviewed by The Denver Post.

State data show molybdenum discharges from the Climax Mine above Leadville in recent years increased to levels 10 times higher than the current statewide limit of 210 parts per billion. CDPHE water-quality control commissioners granted Climax a “temporary modification.” When it expired, the commissioners extended the modification to provide more time to complete a study of molybdenum.

CDPHE officials Tuesday declined to discuss this issue.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, who oversee Colorado’s compliance with the Clean Water Act, informed state commissioners last week that the EPA would allow a limit higher than what Climax Molybdenum is proposing, according to a document filed Friday.

A regional EPA spokesman issued a prepared statement saying the EPA’s filing is “preliminary,” confirming that “our initial review indicates that the proposed standard would protect water supply uses,” but declined to further discuss this issue

State commissioners often follow EPA guidance in setting pollution limits sufficient to protect people while accounting for variability and uncertainty…

Climax officials cited three rat studies the company helped fund in asking CDPHE to relax the statewide water quality limit for molybdenum in streams used for domestic water to 9,000 ppb billion from 210 ppb. Climax also wants limits for waterways used for agricultural irrigation raised to 1,000 ppb from 160 ppb.

EPA recommendations submitted to the CDPHE said a molybdenum limit for streams tapped for drinking water of 10,000 ppb “would be protective … and consistent with Clean Water Act requirements.” However, EPA regional officials said in the document filed Friday that they would not object if Colorado’s commission “chooses to be more conservative and adopts a more stringent table value standard of 9,000 ug/L (ppb) as proposed by Climax Molybdenum Company.”

The EPA “must review and act upon any revised standards once they are adopted by the commission for them to be in effect under the Clean Water Act,” the agency’s statement said. “If the commission chooses to retain current standards, EPA will not have an approval or disapproval role.”

[…]

The CDPHE scientists submitted their recommendation Friday to state commissioners, who are scheduled to deal with the matter in December.

Denver Water is opposing the push for a looser statewide limit, along with downstream communities including Frisco, the Copper Mountain resort and people to the west along the Eagle River…

Denver Water treatment plants lack the capacity to remove molybdenum, which in trace amounts can be healthy. While data on human toxicity is limited, chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout, and can also affect the lungs, kidneys and liver.

Climax officials have told state water quality commissioners their proposal “is not based on any intent or need to increase molybdenum in Climax discharges, and, in particular, Climax does not intend to change its mining or water treatment process in a manner that would cause an increase in the historical discharge of molybdenum into Tenmile Creek.”

@DenverWater: Slow down Climax Molybdenum

Climax Mine

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Freeport-McMoRan subsidiary Climax Molybdenum has asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to relax the water quality limit for molybdenum in streams used for domestic water statewide to 9,000 parts per million from 210 ppm. It also wants the limits for waterways tapped for agricultural irrigation raised to 1,000 ppm from 160 ppm.

The change could cut water-treatment costs at the company’s open-pit Climax Mine above Leadville, where the company produced about 16 million pounds of molybdenum in 2016, down from 23 million pounds in 2015…

“The standard proposed by Climax based on studies it completed on laboratory animals do not appear to adequately extrapolate to human health impacts,” said Tom Roode, the utility’s chief of operations and maintenance. “While the increased discharge may save costs at the mine, it has the potential to increase treatment costs at Denver Water’s treatment plants.”

Denver’s water treatment plants lack the capacity to remove molybdenum, which in trace amounts can be healthy. While data on human toxicity is limited, chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout, and can also affect the lungs, kidneys and liver.

“Our position is that the molybdenum standard should be based on sound science quantifying human health impacts,” Roode said.

At the mine atop Fremont Pass, Climax discharges molybdenum into Tenmile Creek, which flows into Dillon Reservoir.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris and Assistant County Manager Ed Moyer delved into a proposal the county received from Climax Molybdenum, a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan and operators of the Henderson Mill and Mine complex, to change state regulations regarding allowable molybdenum concentrations in water. The decision to change the standard is under the purview of the state’s Water Quality Control Commission, not Grand County.

According to information provided by Morris and Moyer, the state commission is set to decide on the issue at a hearing on Dec. 12.

The standards for allowable molybdenum are set by the state and changes to those standards can impact both drinking water and agricultural water uses. Climax is proposing increasing the allowable standard for molybdenum concentrations in domestic drinking water from 210 micrograms per liter to 9,000 micrograms per liter. They are also seeking an increase in allowable molybdenum levels in agriculture water, from 160 micrograms to 1,000 micrograms.

County Commissioner Rich Cimino indicated he was not supportive of Climax’s proposed increases.

“The standard is the standard, and safety is safety, why would we relax it?” Cimino asked rhetorically.

County Commissioner Merrit Linke echoed Cimino’s comments.

“These are factors of what, 20, to change the standard?” Linke asked. “I don’t think we are going there. If it was a little bit, if it was going from say 210 to 300 maybe that is justifiable, but factors of 40, I don’t think so. No, would be the answer for me.”

No reason for the proposed increase was discussed during the meeting.

WINDY GAP RESERVIOR BYPASS PROJECT COST SET AT OVER $15 MILLION

A review of the Windy Gap Reservoir modification and connectivity channel was also on the agenda Tuesday.

Moyer highlighted that the application for an amended decree and bypass water rights has been submitted to the appropriate water court by Northern Water and the Colorado River District.

Value engineering has been performed on the project, which helped lower the anticipated infrastructure costs of the bypass by roughly $1 million. After adding in approximately $1.4 million for NEPA permitting, monitoring and administration, the total cost of the bypass project is set at $15.6 million.

Moyer informed commissioners that funding for the project is still about $5 million short.

“We have ongoing efforts for fundraising,” Moyer said, highlighting several tours conducted in the last month with prospective foundations, such as the Walton Family Foundation, which toured the project site in late September. Moyer will attend a funding meeting for the project at Denver Water facilities this week and has more follow-up meetings next week.

Moyer also provided a brief update on the ongoing Learning By Doing adaptive management process of which Grand County is a party.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

“We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

“To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

“I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

“Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

Fundraising goal met for a 500 AF environmental pool in Chatfield Reservoir

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver’s project to ensure at least some water for fish in a 40-mile urban stretch of the South Platte River — even during the winter low-flow months when people practically drain it — is gaining momentum.

A fundraising goal has been met to buy space in Chatfield Reservoir, southwest of Denver, to store an “environmental pool” of water – about 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons), Denver Water officials confirmed last week.

Starting next year, state aquatic biologists plan to release that water strategically, concentrating on 65 or so low-flow days each year. The South Platte still will be one of the world’s most tightly controlled rivers, unable to be a natural river that meanders through a flood plain moving sediment…

Water releases will begin “after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project,” Denver Water officials said, with the water moving from Chatfield through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery. Fish grown there, including rainbow trout, may be used to stock river pools where fish currently struggle to reproduce on their own.

Storing water at Chatfield, built for flood control but now in the process of “reallocation” for water supply, costs $7,500 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons). Denver Water officials agreed to spend $1.8 million and match 19 contributions made by metro county and municipal governments, the Greenway Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. “The pledge drive was successful and complete,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will serve as the owner of the water held in Chatfield for environmental purposes. Water rights owned by the agricultural Central Colorado Water Conservancy District are being used to create that pool.

Aquatic biologists say that, by putting more water into the river, river managers can mimic natural flows, lost after the channelization of the Platte following a ruinous 1965 flood that destroyed structures built in the floodplain.

Chatfield Reservoir: The best dam flood solution, period – News on TAP

The South Platte River flood of 1965 led to the construction of Littleton’s popular water recreation destination.

Source: Chatfield Reservoir: The best dam flood solution, period – News on TAP