“…why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project” — Lurline Underbrink Curran

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Lurline Underbrink Curran):

I would like to share why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

While located in Boulder County, the project obtains the water from Grand County — a county that is currently the most impacted county in the state of Colorado for transbasin diversions. You must wonder why the county and its citizens, stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin, along with Trout Unlimited support this project.

The reason is the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which is an historic agreement with statewide environmental benefits which were fought for and gained through sometimes difficult and long negotiations. It has been hailed as a new paradigm and one that will serve as an example of what can be gained when dealing with a finite resource like water. The signatories to this agreement represent the entire Colorado River Basin, and I had the honor of acting as Grand County’s lead negotiator in this agreement. I worked for Grand County for 33 years, retiring as county manager in 2015. I have lived in Grand County over 60 years and have deep roots and interest in the well-being of our waterways.

The environmental benefits gained by Grand County, which include additional flows, river ecosystem improvements, use of Denver Water’s system, participation in an adaptive management process called Learning by Doing, money for river improvements, just to name a few, are necessary to protect and enhance the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Without these benefits, these rivers will continue to degrade, with no hope of recovery or improvement.

Those who oppose the project offer no solutions to the already stressed aquatic environment of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Through the Learning By Doing format and a public private partnership, partners have already implemented a river project on the Fraser as an example of what can be done. This project immediately produced improvements that were astounding. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can verify this claim. This essential work will not continue without the CRCA.

The impacts that are associated with the construction of the Gross Reservoir Enlargement are substantial and one sympathizes with those who will experience them, but the reality is they will end. Mitigation for the construction impacts can be applied. However, without the CRCA, the impacts to the Fraser and Colorado rivers will continue with no hope of improvement.

The environmental enhancements and mitigation that are part of the CRCA cannot be replicated without the reservoir expansion project, and the loss of these enhancements and mitigation will doom the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County to environmental catastrophe.

Boulder County asks FERC to deny @DenverWater’s Gross Dam hydroelectric permit amendment for the Moffat Collection System Project

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

From Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

Citing the success of Denver Water’s conservation efforts since it first issued its “purpose and need” statement for the project, and the fact that no service shortfall has yet materialized for its 1.4 million customers in the metro area, Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman said that based on prior environmental reviews, “Boulder County does not believe Denver Water has shown that the project’s purpose and need have been met and the FERC must deny Denver Water’s application to amend its permit.”

[…]

“We don’t think they have undertaken the duty they have (under federal environmental law) to analyze this problem thoroughly,” [Conrad] Lattes said…

Denver Water officials on Friday answered back by reasserting the project’s merits.

“The Gross Reservoir Expansion project represents an enormous amount of work, input and collaboration to ensure it is done in the most responsible way possible,” Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager said in a statement. “And Denver Water will continue to develop noise, transportation and tree removal plans with input from stakeholders to minimize the impacts to Boulder County and its residents.”

Boulder County comes out against FERC issuing @DenverWater’s requested license amendment for Moffat Collection System Project

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

Here’s the letter from Boulder County to FERC via SaveTheColoradoRiver. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder County is an intervenor in this action and offers the following comments on the Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) issued by the FERC’s staff on February 6, 2018, related to the Gross Reservoir Hydroelectric Project (FERC Project No. 2035-099).

As detailed below, Boulder County continues to object to the FERC issuing Denver Water’s requested license amendment. The FERC staffhas failed to address significant issues related to the project; as a result, approval by the FERC is premature and would result in negative and unnecessary impacts on the residents and natural resources of Boulder County.

The EA analyzes only those potential environmental effects of oe·nver Water’s proposal to expand Gross Dam and Reservoir which were not addressed in the 2014 Final EIS prepared by the Army Corps ofEngineers (Corps). The FERC’s staffreviewed the EA, made a finding of no significant impact, and recommended approval by the Commission, as mitigated by environmental measures discussed in the EA.

This approach is flawed because ofthe resulting narrow scope ofthe EA, the lack ofspecificity related to adoption of mitigation measures for project impacts, and the FERC staffs wholesale and unquestioning adoption of the Army Corps of Engineer’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which FEIS was completed on April 25, 2014, and for which a Record of Decision was issued on July 6, 2017. The FERC should determine that both the FEIS and the EA fail to meet the standards ofthe National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and therefore reject staff’s unreasonable approach.

FERC extends Gross Reservoir hydroelectric license comment period to April 9, 2018

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is weighing a Denver Water request to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam, expand the reservoir and amend its hydroelectric license for the utility, issued a supplemental environmental assessment of the plans Feb. 6. At that time, the commission set a 30-day window for public comment on the document, set to expire March 8.

Save the Colorado and The Environmental Group of Coal Creek Canyon, through Boulder attorney Mike Chiropolos, and, separately, WildEarth Guardians, filed requests to extend that comment period by 60 days.

“Upon consideration, we find that a 30-day extension is warranted,” the commission’s secretary notified parties in a letter on Tuesday. Comments on that supplemental environmental assessment are now due to FERC by April 9…

Tim Guenthner and his wife, Beverly Kurtz, who live in the Lakeshore Park neighborhood on the north side of the reservoir, have studied issues around the proposed project for years.

Guenthner, with his background in engineering, has concerns about environmental, quality of life and safety considerations relating to Denver Water’s plans for development of an on-site quarry at Osprey Point, as well as the use of roller-compacted concrete to enlarge the dam. That’s a technique that he says has never been applied to a dam project at so great a scale. Previously, a dam raise of 117 feet at San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego County was the highest using this technique — not only in the United States, but the world…

The couple, who are part of The Environmental Group of Coal Creek Canyon, urge those interested in learning more about the $380 million Denver Water project to attend a meeting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Community Center located at 31528 Coal Creek Canyon Road. The session will be used to plan social media campaigns and educate the public about the project’s current status and implications.

@NOAA: 50 trips around the Sun collecting CO2 samples on Niwot Ridge

From NOAA (Theo Stein):

A climate science milestone on Colorado’s Continental Divide

On January 16, 1968, in a bracing chill at 11,568 feet above sea level, a Colorado researcher collected an air sample at Niwot Ridge, on the doorstep of the Indian Peaks mountain range. The sample was carried down the mountain and then measured for carbon dioxide at a lab in Boulder, Colorado. The result: 322.4 parts per million.

NOAA was not officially established until 1970, but this air sample produced the first measurement for NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. In the 50 years since, more than 274,000 air samples have been collected at over 60 sites around the globe, including more than 9,000 at Niwot Ridge. All have been transported to what is now NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division labs in Boulder for measurements of carbon cycle gases, like carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and other gases.

From this inauspicious start, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network has evolved into one of the international climate science community’s most valuable resources – a long, uninterrupted and highly accurate accounting of Earth’s changing atmosphere.

Air samples are collected on a weekly basis from locations spanning the Canadian Arctic to the South Pole – continental sites ranging from deserts to tropical forests to barren ice caps, on small islands, and on ships crossing the oceans, by scientists and technicians, as well as soldiers, ranchers, mariners, school teachers, lighthouse keepers, a monk, and a host of other volunteers. One dedicated group of volunteers in Mongolia sends a hearty soul on a 12-hour overnight train ride once a month to deliver air samples to a shipping destination.

Over the years measurements were refined and added, and now samples are analyzed for as many as 60 different trace gases, some at a resolution of parts per trillion. Collection and measurement methods have changed over the decades, but extraordinary steps taken to ensure accuracy mean that historical data are valid and continue to be used by researchers around the world to understand the carbon cycle.

Thanks to that 1968 Niwot Ridge sample, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network database is the third-longest continuous carbon dioxide record in the world, behind the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Antarctic records. NOAA maintains independent sampling stations at Mauna Loa and the South Pole as well.

On January 15, 2018, almost 50 years to to the day since the first sample was collected, a researcher sampled the air at Niwot Ridge. This time, instruments measured 410.24 ppm of carbon dioxide, an increase of 27 percent over that first sample.

For more information on NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, contact Theo Stein: theo.stein@noaa.gov.

Nederland budget approved

Mailboxes are laden with snow on April 17, 2016 in Nederland, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

From The Mountain Ear (John Scarffe):

A new Waste Water Treatment facility and sewer maintenance dominated the 2018, $4.9 million budget approved by the Nederland Board of Trustees during a regular meeting at 7 p.m., December 5, 2017, at the Nederland Community Center…

Estimated expenditures for each fund: General Fund: $2,793,371; Conservation Trust Fund: $16,000; Community Center Fund: $391,068; Water Fund: $708,808; Sewer Fund: $812,422; Downtown Development Authority Fund: $30,700; Downtown Development Authority TIF Fund: $2,900. Total: $4,755,269…

The Sewer fund capital improvements have multiple items such as manhole repairs, mains and a new vehicle. The design and engineering of the Waste Water Treatment Plant Biosolids project will get up to 100 percent in 2018 but will be reimbursed by a loan, Hogan said, and will hopefully be awarded a $950,000 grant for improvements. It is a $2 million project.

Capital improvements from the water fund include the other half of the new vehicle, a Micro Hydro Feasibility Study with a matching $8,000 grant, and other projects, Hogan said.

Grant activity includes a Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant for the Biosolids project, a Great Outdoors Colorado grant for Fishing is Fun; a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant for Pursuing Excellence Raw Water Filtration, a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority grant for the Micro Hydro Feasibility Study with an $8,000 match and a GOCO Parks grant with a $6,000 town match…

For the Water Fund, the changes in rates are explained in the fee schedule. Total revenue is $707,000, operating expenses are $475,000, capital improvements $91,000 and debt payments of $143,000, resulting in a net change in cash of negative $1,200.

The Sewer Fund will also contain a fee schedule increase. Total revenue is budgeted to be $814,000, operating expenditures $527,000, capital improvements $42,000 and debt payments of $244,000, resulting in a positive net change in cash of $2,000.

Hogan presented the 2018 Fee Schedule. Noteworthy increases include the water fee with a three percent increase, and the sewer fund with a four percent increase.

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