In May of 2009, three concurrent venues each showed different artwork, photo essays and educational material about ditches.
Exhibits and featured events at the Boulder Public Library drew crowds of curious Coloradans, while visitors to the Dairy Center for the Arts enjoyed eclectic displays inspired by local water scenes. Various bits of sculpture lined Boulder Creek near the headgates of the Boulder and Left Hand Ditch.
Special programs included tours, storytelling, films, and a symposium of expert speakers. Here, you can revisit parts of the Ditch Project with our comprehensive archive of images, podcasts, and movie clips.
New content will be added here sporadically. Check back here for more updates.
Water Year 2022 started slow, lit up at wintertime, dried up in early spring, leaped back into action in late summer, then got lazy in early fall before one last hurrah.
The erratic spurts over the just-completed “water year,” the 12-month span between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30 that hydrologists use to track water trends, added up to a not-terrible-but-not-great-either result for Denver Water.
The most noticeable events included a very slow start to mountain snowfall through the first three months (bad), a second straight year of healthy summer monsoons in the mountains (good) and a sizable split between the water fortunes of Denver Water’s collection area (the high country and foothills) versus its service area (Denver and parts of five surrounding counties).
In short, it translated into a reasonably good water year in higher elevations and a far drier one for the 1.5 million people the utility serves in Denver and nearby suburbs.
One memorable result? Denver’s first snowfall came Dec. 10 — the latest first snow on record for Denver.
“Every water year is different, and Mother Nature throws new challenges at us almost every time,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply. “But timely rains and good customer practices helped us keep reservoir levels in solid shape and we soldiered through an up-and-down year.”
The very best news appears to be the way a second consecutive year of strong monsoon rains and higher humidity replenished dry soils in the mountains.
Should Colorado enjoy a deeper winter snowpack this year, it would mean more melting snow in the spring could find its way to streams and reservoirs in 2023, rather than vanishing into parched soils as has been the case in recent cycles.
Dice up the numbers in a different way and zoom out from Denver Water and the picture looked better from a statewide perspective, with summer precipitation levels the best since 2015.
Additionally, soil moisture is at its highest levels in three years, according to climate trackers at Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service via recent reporting from Marianne Goodland in the Denver Gazette.
While those are positive developments, experts across various agencies agree that Colorado and its water utilities need a string of strong winters, and preferably some wetter/cooler years overall if we’re ever to see longer-term improvements in hydrology.
But in an era of steady climate change that appears to be unlikely. Colorado’s summer of 2022 was the sixth warmest in the 128-year record maintained by state climatologists.
Denver Water’s supply managers faced some tough conditions in the 2022 water year.
Ongoing work to expand capacity at Gross Reservoir has limited storage in the facility west of Boulder. At the same time, unusually dry conditions on the South Platte River downstream of Denver left farmers calling on water rights dating all the way back to 1871 (just a decade shy of the oldest water rights on the river).
These rights are senior to all of Denver Water’s South Platte River reservoirs and made it difficult to fill those reservoirs. Cheesman Reservoir’s 1889 right is the most senior storage right in Denver Water’s portfolio.
All of that meant more water bypassed Denver Water’s reservoirs to meet those agricultural calls and there was less ability to make up that water by pulling from Gross Reservoir on the north side of the utility’s system. It also meant higher-than-average flows through the Roberts Tunnel to help supplement South Platte supplies.
But, in a hat tip to customers and Mother Nature, smart irrigation techniques (like turning off systems in rainy periods) and solid summer precipitation in the higher country (and, at times, in metro Denver) helped keep Denver Water’s reservoirs at just below average levels.
In fact, all that combined to close a storage gap. Reservoirs were 5% below average in July. But by the end of September that deficit fell to just 1% below average.
And there was more good news. Another good summer of monsoons kept wildfires at bay, which was a big relief after the devastating water year of 2020, when record-setting late-season fires extended the burn season into October.
The last month of summer keeps getting warmer. This one set a new record for 90-degree days (10), which — along with other factors — make it the fastest-warming month in the Denver area when compared to the previous 30-year block of records that spans 1981 to 2010.
Conditions improved in late September, when late-season moisture boosted streamflows and dampened soils, especially in the high country, bringing a happy ending to the water year.
Some broader context also is in order.
The 2022 Water Year for the wider Colorado River Basin was another poor one. One simple metric captures the status of the basin: The amount of water in the two major reservoirs on the river dropped dramatically, with Lake Mead falling 1.8 million acre-feet from a year ago and Lake Powell falling 1.5 million acre-feet in the same time frame.
Trends in the Colorado River Basin matter a great deal to Denver Water, as the utility gets about 50% of its supplies from the headwaters of the basin.
The new 2023 Water Year that began Oct. 1 is off to a good start for Denver Water.
After the nip-and-tuck of the summer months, the utility’s reservoir levels have hit their average mark heading into late fall and winter, just where water managers want to be at the beginning of the snow-accumulation season.
“We hope Mother Nature makes a New Water Year Resolution to provide ample snow and rain fall in the water year of 2023,” said Elder.
It’s he and his team who must now begin planning for the various scenarios winter and spring might bring.
You, too, can make a resolution for the New Water Year: to reduce your water use. Check out Denver Water’s website for rebates and ways to use water efficiently.
The Division of Water Resources, Division 1 Office in Greeley, CO is hiring for the Deputy Water Commissioner for Water Districts 6 & 7 – Engineering/Physical Sciences Tech I position. The purpose of this position is to ascertain the available surface water supply and distribute, control and regulate the surface and groundwater tributary to the South Platte River in the Boulder Creek and Clear Creek basins on a daily basis pursuant to water decrees, substitute water supply plans and state statutes, and may assist in adjacent water districts with water administration. Anyone interested in learning more about the position or seeking to apply can access the following link to the job announcement on the State of Colorado Job Opportunities website:
Construction began April 1 on Denver Water’s five-year project to expand Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam.
The reservoir and dam, located in the foothills west of Boulder, were named after former Denver Water Chief Engineer Dwight Gross. The dam was completed in 1954 to store water from the West Slope for Denver’s growing population.
The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.
Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.
“We’ve been busy bringing trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment to the site to prepare for construction,” said Doug Raitt, construction manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “A lot has to be done just to prepare the site for all the work that has to happen.”
Early work involves blasting rock on the sides of the canyon to make way for the additional concrete that will be placed over the downstream face and above the existing dam.
Crews also are building a walkway on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam to provide access for workers to walk from one side of the dam to the other.
Upcoming work includes hydroblasting 2 to 3 inches of concrete from the face of the dam so the new concrete will adhere to it. Part of the dam’s spillway will also be removed to prepare for the addition.
To raise the dam, crews will start at the bottom and extend the base of the dam out. Then they will build a series of steps up to the dam’s new height — similar to what you see on the sides of an Egyptian pyramid.
“When it’s done, it will be the largest dam in Colorado and nearly triple the storage capacity of the existing reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “We’re really excited to begin construction on this important project.”
Martin said that work conducted during 2022 and 2023 will be mostly site preparation for the on-site concrete production and foundation work on the rock on the sides of the dam and around the bottom.
At the height of construction there may be as many as 400 workers on site at a time, Raitt said.
“Raising a dam is often trickier than simply building a new one,” Raitt said. “We have to continue sending water through the dam during construction while transforming the dam into a new structure.”
Throughout the project, safety will be the No. 1 priority at the site.
“Denver Water and our construction partners have an emphasis on safety for the public and our workers every day,” Raitt said. “We all go through safety training and will continue to evaluate our operations throughout the project.”
Protecting the environment and wildlife is another important part of the project. Denver Water worked with biologists to make sure there were no bird nests in the area before the start of construction and will continue to do so throughout the project.
Additional environmental mitigation efforts were put in place to protect South Boulder Creek and the reservoir from sediment and erosion washing in during the work. These efforts will continue throughout the project.
Denver Water also is spending time updating community members around the reservoir.
“It’s important that we let them know what’s happening with the project,” Raitt said.
“For months, we’ve been doing outreach to the community with public meetings, newsletters and emails. We’ve received a lot of feedback from our neighbors letting us know what’s important to them and we’ll continue to work with them and update them throughout the project.”
Click the link to read the article from Denver Water (Todd Hartman):
After nearly two decades of planning and permitting, Denver Water’s work to expand Gross Reservoir northwest of Denver is set to kick off.
Over the coming weeks, residents living near the reservoir may notice early signs of construction activity, including limited tree removal, more heavy equipment on roadways and shifts in recreation access to the reservoir.
“We want residents and visitors to the area to be aware and informed; we are taking the initial steps on the project, including mobilization of equipment, in the weeks to come,” said Jeff Martin, the program manager for the expansion project.
“We want to be transparent about the work underway and we want to share information proactively while continuing to address questions and respond to concerns our neighbors have shared. Most importantly, we want to ensure everyone’s safety on the roadways.”
A consistent place to get up-to-date information on the expansion project will be through the project website http://grossreservoir.org as well as via a Google My Map.
The public also can contact Denver Water through email, a phone hotline and virtual office hours, as well as by signing up for email updates and following the utility’s social media channels. Those contact details also are available on the project website and at http://denverwater.org.
Denver Water also held public outreach sessions in February for residents living in the vicinity of the project. About 80 neighbors attended to learn more about what to expect as construction ramps up.
Here are some key things to expect in the coming weeks and months. In many cases, specific start dates for work are still being developed. Those will be shared at http://grossreservoir.org as details are finalized.
Improvements to Gross Dam Road. To protect the safety of all drivers, Denver Water is widening the road in various sections to address tight curves as well as improving the intersection at State Highway 72 and Gross Dam Road. Signage and traffic control will be in place to help drivers safely navigate the affected areas.
Limited tree removal. Some trees will be removed in areas planned for site development on the south side of the dam, at the future quarry location, in areas along Gross Dam Road and other areas where various construction activities are planned.
Equipment mobilization. Trucks and other heavy equipment will be spotted more frequently on Highway 72 and nearby roads as contractors position materials for upcoming work on roads and near the base of the dam.
Recreation changes. Access to recreation areas on the south side of the dam, including Windy Point, Osprey Point and Miramonte Picnic Area, will be closed in mid-March. Public boat launch access will be relocated from Osprey Point to the North Shore peninsula. This Google My Map is a good place to check for up-to-date information on recreation and access.
Access to the North Shore of the reservoir will also be limited temporarily this spring for construction of a temporary parking lot to help accommodate recreation shifts during the expansion project.
Construction activities will increase as the weather warms.
By this summer, truck trips in the canyon are expected to increase to nearly 20 trips per day and the workforce will grow to roughly 300 people, though a ridesharing program will help reduce traffic impacts. That intensity will drop off again as the weather cools.
“We recognize this project will have disruptions to the community near the project and within Coal Creek Canyon,” Martin said. “We are committed to clear, two-way communication with the public and keeping people fully informed as we move forward on this critical project.”
All but $5,000 suspended, as mine reclamation staff says owners of Cross and Caribou mines are making “good faith” efforts to get cleanup online.
The state Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a $17,000 fine on owners of the Cross and Caribou mines for water quality violations, but suspended all but $5,000 of the penalty as long as Grand Island Resources continues “good faith” efforts to install containment and cleanup equipment.
The state agency’s staff largely endorsed the mining company’s presentation detailing completion of a filtration system for any water emitted from the historic mine above Nederland, and said they would continue on-site review of the improvements and water sampling…
The state board was reviewing a cease and desist order issued late in 2021 that said mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months, but also more alleged violations before and after, from December 2020 to last August. Violations included excessive traces of heavy metals, including copper and lead, that can be dangerous to aquatic and human health.
The state’s order charged the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. Water quality officials ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and said it would determine the levels of fines in January.
Ed Byrne, an attorney for Grand Island Resources, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of the hearing…
The company will keep working with state and local officials to fully comply with permits, Byrne added.
An attorney for Save the Colorado, a nonprofit environmental group that is monitoring the mine, said the testimony before the board shows the mine appears to have remedied some pollution problems…
Cross and Caribou is not currently producing gold ore, but the company has a permit to build an ore processing facility and says it has been spending millions of dollars rebuilding tunnels and cleaning up past mine operations.
Grand Island said it will also continue to work with Boulder County, City of Boulder and Nederland.
Since its formation more than 100 years ago, Denver Water has always planned ahead when investing in the system that today supplies clean, safe drinking water every day to a quarter of Colorado’s population.
And with a variety of changes — from regulations to weather patterns — expected in the future, the utility and its 1,000 employees are continuing the work needed to maintain, repair, protect and upgrade its 4,000 square miles of watershed and 3,000 miles of pipe, plus its dams, pump stations and underground storage tanks and more.
While the global COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity, Denver Water has worked to keep rate increases for customers as small as possible.
On Oct. 27, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted new water rates that will effective Jan. 1, 2022, to help pay for critical upgrades and projects to keep this system operating efficiently. How that rate increase will affect individual customer bills will vary depending on where the customer lives in Denver Water’s service area and how much water they use.
For typical single-family residential customers who receive a bill from Denver Water, if they use 104,000 gallons of water in 2022 as they did in 2021, the new rates will increase their monthly bill by a range of about 47 cents to $1.34 depending on where they live.
“Denver Water’s mission is to ensure that we deliver safe, clean water to the people who rely on us every day,” said CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “Over the next 10 years, we are forecasting an estimated investment of $2.6 billion into our system to increase its resiliency, reliability and sustainability in the face of changes we are anticipating. From more frequent droughts and wildfires to additional regulations we expect we will be asked to meet — we will be prepared.”
A customer’s monthly bill is comprised of a fixed charge, which helps ensure Denver Water has a more stable revenue stream to continue the necessary water system upgrades to ensure reliable water service, and a volume rate for the amount of water used.
The fixed monthly charge — which is tied to the size of the meter — is increasing by 74 cents in 2022 for most single-family residential customers to ensure Denver Water is recovering 20% of its needed revenue from fixed charges.
After the fixed monthly charge, Denver Water’s rate structure has three tiers based on the amount of water used.
“Even with such large efforts in our future, it’s our goal to have slow and steady rate increases with even, annual adjustments that allow our customers to plan ahead and avoid rate shocks,” said Fletcher Davis, rates manager for Denver Water.
To keep water affordable, the first tier, which covers essential indoor water use for bathing, cooking and flushing toilets, is charged at the lowest rate.
The amount of water in this first tier is determined for each customer by averaging their monthly water use as listed on bills dated January through March each year. This is called their average winter consumption.
Water use above the average winter consumption — typically used for outdoor watering — is charged at a higher price. Efficient outdoor water use is charged in the second tier (middle rate), followed by additional outdoor water use in the third tier (highest rate).
Meet customers who used Garden In A Box, a Resource Central program supported by Denver Water, to beautify their landscapes with water-wise plants.
The difference in volume rates for customers who live inside Denver compared to those who live in the suburbs is due to the Denver City Charter, which was changed in 1959 to allow permanent leases of water to suburban water districts based on two conditions: 1) there always would be an adequate supply for the citizens of Denver, and 2) suburban customers pay the full cost of service, plus an additional amount.
Denver Water encourages customers to be efficient with their water use.
Using less water means more water can be kept in the mountain reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in, and Coloradans enjoy. And using less water also can lower your monthly water bills, saving money.
“We are continuing our work maintaining and replacing water mains in the street, building a new state-of-the-art treatment plant and water quality laboratory, preparing for the needed expansion of Gross Reservoir and replacing old, customer-owned lead service lines to protect our customers from the risk of lead in drinking water,” Lochhead said.
“At the same time, we use the tools available to us to help pay for the necessary investment in our system and keep our rates as low as possible.”
In addition to rates paid by customers, Denver Water relies on bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and the fees paid when new homes and buildings are connected to the system.
The utility does not make a profit or receive tax dollars. It reinvests money from customer water bills to maintain and upgrade the water system.
Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.
“As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”
That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.
Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.
“We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”
Timing is everything
The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.
Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.
During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.
“We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.
Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.
The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.
“Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”
Extreme weather events
Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.
Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.
The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.
The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.
Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.
“A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.
“We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”
Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.
Planning for climate uncertainty
Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.
“One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”
Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.
The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.
“We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.
Enhancing data collection
Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.
“We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”
In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.
“In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”
What can customers do?
The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.
“Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”
Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.
“Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”
Tests at the Cross and Caribou mine that drains into drinking water supplies show elevated levels of lead, cadmium and other toxic minerals, as the state threatens high fines.
State water quality officials have issued a cease and desist order and threatened substantial fines against owners of the Caribou gold mine above Nederland because of heavy metals leaking into drinking water sources, hammering Grand Island Resources over repeated violations.
The dripping heavy metals are not a current threat to Middle Boulder Creek, Barker Reservoir or the parts of Boulder County downstream, state officials said. But they ordered the owners to build a new containment and cleanup system, and threatened to impose fines of up to $54,833 per day for each of multiple violations for the toxic metals and for failing to report test results.
“A notice of violation is one of the most serious actions we take, and I think this shows that we really are committed to protecting the resource up there,” said Kelly Morgan, an environmental protection specialist for water quality in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This is a big deal to us.”
In a statement from a Nederland address, Grand Island Resources acknowledged the violations, and said that it had been moving since before the state’s notice to solve the problems and “replace the last 50 years of antiquated and obsolete water purification methods and treatments.”
“We are working hand in hand with federal, state and local agencies. . . to make all the necessary investments and capital improvements that were not made by previous operators of the Cross and Caribou Mines,” the statement said. The company said it has hired a top engineering team to design new water capture and treatment facilities as ordered by the state.
Nederland wants the Boulder County Commissioners to help monitor the situation, and is keeping careful track of water supplies fed by Coon Track Creek, where the mine discharges water, and downstream waters, town trustee Alan Apt said. Nederland over the summer passed a “natural rights of rivers” resolution for exactly this reason: protecting western Boulder County’s natural resources for the public, he noted…
The once-thriving mine is near popular backcountry attractions a few miles northwest and northeast of Nederland, including Eldora ski area, to the Rainbow Lakes and Fourth of July trailheads, to the Caribou Ranch Open Space playgrounds…
Apt said Grand Island wants to increase the amount of ore it mines at Cross and Caribou and hopes to build an ore crushing and processing plant at the site…
The company’s attorney Ed Byrne said Boulder County approved an ore processing facility in 2008 and Grand Island still plans to build it, which would save dozens of truck trips a day…
In terms of how high the eventual fines might be, Byrne said, “there was no chemical spill or release of ore processing water. The higher fine levels are typically reserved for damaging or reckless releases, not rare exceedances of stringent numerical aquatic life standards.”
The state’s cease and desist order says mine owners failed to make some required pollutant reports in March and April of this year. When the state looked deeper, it found pollutant violations in those months but also many more alleged violations before and after, spanning a period of December 2020 through August 2021.
In April, for example, Cross/Caribou self-reported copper traces of 50 micrograms per liter of water, when the state standard is a daily maximum of 20. In January, the mine reported lead of 10 micrograms per liter, when the state 30-day average limit was 3.8. The state’s order charges the mine with violating the Colorado Water Quality Control Act. The notice of violations and cease and desist order in early November say the state is continuing to investigate and may have “additional enforcement actions.”
Grand Island Resources must also answer to the state’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and will be subject to a hearing in front of the division’s board in mid-December. The company was trying to make improvements in recent months, Morgan said, but the state hasn’t found them effective…
The violations related to failing to report tainted water were not intentional, Byrne, the company’s attorney, said. Some were “a misinterpretation on our part of the state reporting protocols,” he said, and others were related to weather delaying timely deliveries to a lab in Montana.
Colorado water quality regulators have issued a cease and desist order to the owner of two hard-rock mines located just outside the town of Nederland, alleging the mines have discharged potentially hazardous pollutants well in excess of permitted levels into nearby watersheds.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division issued a notice of violation on Nov. 5 to Grand Island Resources, LLC, which acquired the Cross and Caribou Mines in western Boulder County after the death of former owner and miner Tom Hendricks in 2020.
The violation notice came after a series of compliance advisories were sent to the company over the summer. The November notice alleges a failure to comply with current water quality standards, citing multiple excess effluent discharges of heavy metals during the months of December 2020 to August 2021, as well as a failure to comply with required reporting of additional water pollutants.
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Pollutants listed in the violation for exceeding the daily or monthly limits included lead, copper, zinc, silver and cadmium, with the self-monitored data showing several occasions where effluent discharges exceeded levels by up to three or four times the permitted amounts.
Grand Island Resources is currently permitted through the state to release treated wastewater via one outfall into Coon Track Creek within the specified effluent limits. The need to stay within these limits is underscored by the fact that the small creek serves as a tributary in the Boulder Creek watershed, ultimately joining another creek through the town of Nederland and flowing into the Barker Reservoir, one of several potable water sources for the city of Boulder.
In high concentrations, heavy metals are well documented to cause impacts to the environment and human health, including the ability to accumulate in the body over time and cause disease. Critically, the 2021 report of Boulder’s drinking water quality — which employs data from 2020 — reported no violations for lead or copper levels, and no public health advisories have been issued to date.
Direct water quality testing for the natural spring located off Caribou Road — a spring often utilized by locals and recreational visitors — was not immediately available, nor was the immediate source of the spring known.
Representatives of Grand Island Resources did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time compliance advisories or notices of violations have been issued by CDPHE for the Cross and Caribou Mines. Publicly available documents show repeated enforcement actions regarding either excess effluent discharge or a failure to comply with reporting standards of treated wastewater dating back to the 1980s under previous ownership.
The current notice of violation for heavy metal water contaminants comes as Grand Island Resources is seeking revision of its current state permit, having filed for review with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, a branch of the state Department of Natural Resources, on Feb. 8. No determination has been made to date, with a pending response required from the mining company to proceed. At the same time, the notice of violation has been scheduled for a hearing before the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board on Dec. 15 to 16.
Grand Island Resources is also currently operating under a special use development agreement with the county of Boulder, according to Jesse Rounds, a senior planner with Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting. Rounds explained that this agreement is separate from the state mining permit and was acquired in the transfer of mine ownership.
According to Rounds, so long as the existing agreement is upheld, the agreement remains in place indefinitely. However, the county is now currently reviewing if the requested modifications to the state would continue to uphold the existing special use agreement, or if a full special use review may be necessary.
The Cross and Caribou Mines were once estimated to potentially be worth billions of dollars in gold, raising questions as to the long-term scale of mining to be conducted by the new company, and the subsequent implications for Boulder County.
“Mining has had an enormous impact on Nederland’s history,” Nederland Mayor Kris Larsen said in an interview. “It’s why our town exists in the first place, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be part of our future as the demand for domestically sourced minerals is only going to grow. But it can’t be done like it’s been done. It has to be done in a responsible way that protects our air, water, and common environment.”
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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.
After nearly 20 years of preparations, the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is moving ahead.
Last week, Denver Water took the final step necessary to proceed with the project after striking an agreement with Boulder County to take additional actions to offset impacts of the project.
The accord with Boulder County means Denver Water can proceed with the long-awaited project that will raise the dam, triple the reservoir capacity and mean far more water security for 1.5 million people in an era of more intense droughts, heavier rain events and earlier snowmelt – all driven by climate change.
“Today is an historic occasion for Denver Water,” CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead told Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners on Nov. 3, upon acceptance of the Boulder County agreement.
“We bring to a conclusion the federal, state and local review processes that will allow us to begin construction of the expansion of Gross Reservoir.”
Denver Water personnel will begin close coordination with Boulder County and others to prepare the area and local roadways for construction. Denver Water will continue to engage and communicate with project neighbors to ease impacts of the work.
“In the two decades Denver Water has spent preparing for the project, we have been driven by a singular value: the need to do this expansion the right way, by involving the community, by upholding the highest environmental standards and by protecting and managing the water and landscapes that define Colorado,” Lochhead said.
“Boulder County and its residents share these perspectives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the project moves ahead.”
Gross Dam was built in the 1950s and named after Dwight D. Gross, a former chief engineer at Denver Water. It was built to store water from the West Slope that travels through the Moffat Tunnel, as well as water from South Boulder Creek.
“The original engineers designed the dam so that it could be raised twice, if needed,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir project manager. “Based on our water supply projections and current system shortfalls, that need is here.”
Denver Water began the permitting process to raise the dam in 2003 and received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2016 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017.
The plan cleared its final federal hurdle on July 16, 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the project and ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction.
The project has earned support from major environmental groups, business interests, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the state’s last five governors.
Raising the dam will increase the reservoir’s storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water and make Gross Reservoir the second-largest in Denver Water’s system. When complete, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold 119,000 acre-feet, second only to Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, which is capable of holding just north of 257,000 acre-feet.
Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term, multipronged approach to deliver safe, reliable water to more than 1.5 million people today and those who will call the Front Range home in the future. That approach includes increased water efficiency, recycling water and responsibly sourcing new storage.
The additional reservoir capacity will enable increased water capture in wet years to help avoid shortages during droughts. It will also help offset a current imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system that is a significant risk.
“Right now, 90% of our water storage is on the south end of our water collection system, but just 10% of our storage is on the north end,” Martin said.
“By enlarging Gross Dam, we’ll be able to store more water in the north, which will improve our flexibility in the event there’s a problem on the south side that could come from any number of operational issues or threats, like wildfires.”
Once filled, the expansion at Gross will provide an additional 72,000 acre-feet of water storage, which is roughly the amount 288,000 residential households would use for one year.
In addition, 5,000 acre-feet of storage space in the expanded reservoir — known as the environmental pool — is reserved to support environmental needs as part of an agreement with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette. Water from the environmental pool will be used to provide beneficial stream flows along a 17-mile stretch of South Boulder Creek below the dam during dry periods to protect fish and aquatic insects.
Denver Water also has committed over $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will provide a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.
Denver Water will use its existing water rights to fill the reservoir when it is complete. Engineers expect it will take around five years to fill the newly expanded portion of the reservoir, depending on precipitation and water use from customers.
“In the end, this project won’t be judged by whether we raised the dam, but rather how we went about expanding the reservoir,” Lochhead said. “We will continue to seek community input and look forward to working with Boulder County as the project moves ahead.”
Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.
The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.
Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.
The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.
The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.
Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…
The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…
Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.
“We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.
Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.
Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…
The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.
The agreement with Denver Water now includes:
$5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir.
$5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces.
$1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction.
$1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration.
A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.
Moving water from mountain reservoirs to household taps is never easy. For the next several months, Denver Water will be doing it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back.
A series of major maintenance and construction projects will require Denver Water to, essentially, shut down the entire north side of its collection, delivery and treatment system, and rely wholly on the southern end to supply 1.5 million people with water as the utility heads into the colder seasons.
The work has required a Colorado Ballet level of choreography to move water around the system months in advance in preparation for a rare set of circumstances.
“Shifting all that water here and there, it’s a lot to keep straight, a lot to think about, a lot to juggle,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water. “And it all comes on top of watching the weather to see what it might — or might not — bring us as far as precipitation.”
Denver Water is conducting several projects that required the utility to turn off the spigot on its north side supply system late this summer. Those include:
Replacing a massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam that prevents heavy debris from finding its way into the pipes and valves that calibrate water releases at the base of the dam. The project is so complex it requires specially trained diving crews working hundreds of feet under the reservoir surface.
Replacing concrete at the Moffat Canal near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. The freeze-thaw cycle at 9,200 feet has taken a toll and allowed for water to seep underneath concrete and create the potential for damaging erosion.
Repairing deteriorated concrete within the Moffat Tunnel caused by years of scour within the tunnel.
Replacing key structures at Ralston Reservoir along Highway 93 near Golden. The work to replace equipment that regulates the way water is carried through the dam will allow for safer operation of reservoir releases. Replacing that equipment requires draining the reservoir.
A project to connect the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant to Denver Water’s distribution system. This work, the overarching reason for shutting down north side flows, also requires taking the existing Moffat Treatment Plant offline for modifications related to the Northwater connections.
All that north side work means Denver Water will have to rely almost fully on supplies from its southern end that gather water from the South Platte River as well as from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County.
This north side shutdown is even more complicated than the maneuverings required in the summer of 2020, when Denver Water had to undertake big shifts in how it moved water through its system due to repair work that closed the Roberts Tunnel for two months, closing off access to water from Dillon Reservoir.
That orchestration was hard enough. Planning for the current shutdown began months ago when engineers decided to coordinate several projects to contain the treatment and delivery disruptions to a single fall and winter cycle.
“Doing it this way made the most sense,” explained Jennifer Gelmini, a senior engineer at Denver Water who is coordinating the projects. “We realized we were going to have a long outage for the work needed for the Northwater plant connections and Moffat modifications and looked at how we could take advantage of this big shutdown and what other projects could fit into that timeframe.”
That plan made it critical to maintain as much water as possible in Dillon Reservoir to help with supplies in the late summer and fall, while also keeping levels high at Cheesman and Marston reservoirs so they can be relied on over the upcoming winter months.
Anglers and Sunday drivers may have noticed big flows in the North Fork of the South Platte River, too, in late summer, as the utility moved more water than usual from Dillon, through the Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork. At times, late summer flows reached 450 cubic feet per second, compared to a more typical September flow of one-third that volume.
“We’ve been setting the stage on this for months,” Elder said. “Taking the north end out of the equation means we have to set up our southern end for all the heavy lifting for nearly an eight-month span. It’s a highly unusual and tricky undertaking.”
Ralston Reservoir near Golden must be drained completely to replace the outlet works at the base of the earthen dam. That reservoir holds nearly 11,000 acre-feet and will be out of commission until the beginning of runoff season in April 2022, creating a dramatic gap in Denver Water’s typical water delivery and treatment pattern.
Because the 84-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant also will be offline for that period, all the water treatment needs are pushed to the utility’s Marston and Foothills plants in the southwest side of the region.
Further complicating such an extended dance: Denver Water this summer had to release large volumes of water from two West Slope reservoirs (Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain) to make up for a water debt it owed on the other side of the Continental Divide.
While those releases weren’t tied to the projects on the north end, it was another factor water managers had to keep in mind as they ensured Denver Water met all its many obligations, both to its customers and to agreements related to Colorado River flows.
“This year has been unusual,” Elder said. “No year is ever the same in water supply, but between a pretty dry winter, then a wet spring and early summer, followed by another dry stretch as we try to set the system up for these construction projects, there were a lot of details to sweat.”
The good news: Come spring, a lot of key projects will be wrapped up, and water managers will once again have more flexibility to manage water between its north and south systems.
Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.
Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.
“The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”
Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…
The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.
But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…
Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.
Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…
In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.
A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Eight years ago this week, Colorado experienced one of its worst natural disasters when a week of rain flooded 20 counties, caused nearly $4 billion in damages, killed nine people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
Not only was the devastation staggering, but it marked only the second time in Colorado weather history that such a flood happened in September.
The National Weather Service ranked the 2013 flood its top weather story of the 2010-19 decade…
On Sept. 10, it started raining and didn’t stop for virtually a week, dropping copious amounts of precipitation from the Colorado-Wyoming border to Colorado Springs…
Fort Carson near Colorado Springs set a state record of 11.85 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, according to the National Weather Service. Boulder received 9.08 inches in one day and 18.16 inches in the week, which equates to more than the area’s average precipitation for a year.
Fort Collins reported 5.3 inches, Buckhorn Mountain west of the city 9.87 inches and Estes Park 9.31 inches for the week. For Buckhorn Mountain, 7.62 inches of that rain fell Sept. 11-12…
At one point, [Fort Collins] was cut off with all roads leading in and out impassable, including Interstate 25 where it crosses the Poudre River and the Big Thompson River near Loveland.
The flood is one of the reasons the I-25 bridge over the Poudre River is being raised 8 feet as part of the North I-25 Express Lanes project.
The devastation was staggering:
The flood covered 4,500 square miles, or the size of more than 10 Rocky Mountain National Parks
The damage estimate reached nearly $4 billion
More than 19,000 people were evacuated
26,000 homes were damaged
200 businesses were destroyed and 750 were damaged
200 miles of road were damaged or destroyed, including U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon
50 major bridges damaged
Schumacher said a blocking ridge of high pressure parked over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada prevented other weather patterns from moving into the area.
A low pressure sat stationary in the Four Coroners area drawing up large amounts of tropical moisture and swinging that moisture out east then back west, creating an upslope condition against the foothills and mountains.
It rained early that week but then on the evening of Sept. 11 a weak disturbance coincided with the showers and thunderstorms, resulting in a slow and almost stationary area of heavy rain along the Front Range that lasted through much of Sept. 12.
The rain intensity lightened up, but rain continued through Sept. 16 with many areas of the Front Range receiving 6 to 18 inches of rain over the week.
Schumacher said another anomaly of the storm was at how high of elevation it rained. He said conventional wisdom is that intense rain rarely happens above 7,500 feet because in upslope conditions the moisture is pushing up the mountainsides, running out of moisture as it moves up in elevation.
However, the 2013 storm produced up to 10 inches of rain at 10,000 feet and higher…
Schumacher said the only other September rain that comes close to 2013 was in May of 1938.
He said heavy rain flooded the Republican River in eastern Colorado then. In 1938 and even in 1997 when Fort Collins was flooded, rainfall measurements were taken by measuring rain found in buckets, old tires or anything that collected rain, Schumacher said.
Some measurements in 1938 recorded more than 20 inches of rain, but the measurement never became official because the rain was not recorded in a gauge…
For more information about the 2013 flood, read the Bulletin of American Meteorlogical Society [report].
Denver Water conveying stunningly scenic parcels to Forest Service as part of Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
It’s been getting crowded on the trails, open spaces and forests along the Front Range, especially since COVID-19 sent lock-down weary residents bursting into the backcountry in an eager search for safe, socially distanced outdoor recreation.
That newfound enthusiasm for backcountry adventure isn’t expected to fade any time soon.
But now, thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water, explorers will have just a sliver of additional elbow room.
Denver Water is in the process of conveying 539 acres of wetlands, meadows and forests in Gilpin County to the Forest Service to be managed for public use.
The remote acreage, near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel, protects ecologically precious lands near two wildly popular wilderness areas (Indian Peaks and James Peak) and the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. The land also complements a larger landscape protection effort in the region assembled by The Conservation Fund.
“Denver Water is thrilled to be a part of this landscape preservation effort,” said Jim Lochhead, the utility’s CEO/Manager. “This region near these precious wilderness areas is an environmental gem and one much loved by Coloradans, especially many within our service area.
“Ensuring its permanent protection is an outcome we are proud to be a part of, and we appreciate our partnership with the Forest Service and the Conservation Fund in putting this all together,” he said.
Denver Water agreed to provide the land for its ecological value and public use as part of a sweeping agreement with the Forest Service to offset environmental impacts associated with the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the east of the area.
It’s one of several steps Denver Water has already taken to complete so-called “mitigation” projects years ahead of the expansion work.
The lands being conveyed are part of what’s known as the Toll Property, the name derived from a ranching family that owned the land for 120 years.
Denver Water’s contribution, scattered across 11 parcels, is part of a much larger agreement, according to reporting in the Boulder Daily Camera. A much larger area of 3,334 acres remains in the Toll family’s private ownership, but with a perpetual conservation easement to prevent development.
An additional 823 acres also were acquired by the Forest Service.
The entire land protection project creates a significant buffer, separating the adjacent James Peak Wilderness to the west from rural development and urban areas to the east, as described in a summary by The Conservation Fund.
It also helps protect a four-mile stretch of the upper portion of South Boulder Creek, a key part of Denver Water’s supply.
The landscape is familiar not only to backpackers. Train aficionados know the area as part of the route taken by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, between Denver and San Francisco.
Since that time, CPP requested additional information from Denver Water. On June 29, 2021, the CPP Director acknowledged Denver Water’s intent to not provide additional requested information, and determined the 1041 review will move to public hearings.
Denver Water filed a lawsuit against the county in July 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the county does not have the authority to regulate the project because the project requires a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Because of the lawsuit, on July 26, Denver Water’s attorney requested that the CPP Director place the 1041 application on hold, and CPP Director Dale Case granted the request the next day, July 27.
Consequently, public hearings that were set for August and September have been canceled.
“It makes sense to have the court resolve the legal issues about whether Boulder County can proceed before conducting hearings on the 1041 review,” said Case. “We have already devoted significant time and resources to processing Denver Water’s application, and it would take even more county resources to proceed with public hearings.”
The Areas and Activities of State Interest (1041) application for the expansion of Gross Reservoir is a request to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet total of water, which includes increasing the dam height by approximately 131 feet, the dam length by approximately 790 feet, and the spillway elevation by approximately 126 feet; quarry operations to obtain aggregate needed for construction; construction of a temporary concrete batch/production plant and an aggregate processing plant; permanent road improvements to Gross Dam Road from State Highway 72 to Gross Reservoir; temporary road improvements to FS359 (Winiger Ridge Road) and FS97 (Lazy Z Road); and the relocation of the Miramonte Multi-Use Trail.
Even in the absence of bark beetle outbreaks and wildfire, trees in Colorado subalpine forests are dying at increasing rates from warmer and drier summer conditions, found recent CU Boulder research.
The study, published in February in the Journal of Ecology, also found that this trend is increasing. In fact, tree mortality in subalpine Colorado forests not affected by fire or bark beetle outbreaks in the last decade has more than tripled since the 1980s.
“We have bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires that cause very obvious mortality of trees in Colorado. But we’re showing that even in the areas that people go hiking in and where the forest looks healthy, mortality is increasing due to heat and dry conditions alone,” said Robert Andrus, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University. “It’s an early warning sign of climate change.”
These deaths are not only affecting larger trees, thus reducing forests’ carbon storage, but hotter and drier conditions are making it difficult for new trees to take root across the southern Rockies in Colorado, southern Wyoming and northern parts of New Mexico.
It’s well known that rising temperatures and increasing drought are causing tree deaths in forests around the globe. But here in Colorado, researchers found that heat and drought alone are responsible for over 70% of tree deaths in the 13 areas of subalpine forest they measured over the past 37 years. That’s compared with about 23% of tree deaths due to bark beetles and about 5% due to wind damage.
“It was really surprising to see how strong the relationship is between climate and tree mortality, to see that there was a very obvious effect of recent warmer and drier conditions on our subalpine forests,” said Andrus, who conducted this research while completing his graduate degree in physical geography at CU Boulder. “The rate of increasing mortality is alarming.”
With temperatures in Colorado having risen by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s and increasing more quickly at higher elevations, estimates of another possible 2.5 or more degrees of warming in the next few decades due to climate change indicate that the rate of tree deaths will only increase.
Seeing the forest for the trees
Subalpine forests cover over 10,000 square miles in Colorado and are best known by those who ski or recreate in the mountains. Subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce dominate the area above the Peak to Peak Highway in the Front Range, and if you go over any mountain pass in Colorado, you’re going into the subalpine zone, according to Andrus.
Previous research at CU Boulder has shown how wildfire, beetle kill and the two combined can affect the mortality and health of Rocky Mountain subalpine forests. This new research isolated the effects of those two common stressors from those of heat and moisture to find out how much of an effect climate change is having on these tree populations.
“As trees die in increasing numbers due to fire, bark beetles and drought, the warmer and drier climate is making it much less likely that new tree seedlings can establish and replace the dead adult trees,” said Tom Veblen, co-author of the study and professor emeritus of geography.
Launched by Veblen when he arrived on campus in 1982, this is the longest running study of tree mortality in Colorado with measurements made frequently enough to identify the factors causing tree death. Every three years since, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate field assistants have diligently returned to the more than 5,000 marked trees on Niwot Ridge just west of Boulder. In these 13 subalpine forest plots, they recorded that more trees died during summers with higher maximum temperatures and greater moisture deficits.
They found that tree mortality increased from .26% per year during 1982 to 1993, to .82% per year during 2008 to 2019—more than tripling within 40 years.
“It is really challenging because it’s not very visually obvious to the casual observer,” said Andrus. “But the thing to keep in mind is that while warmer, drier conditions are also causing more fire and bark beetle outbreaks, these slow and gradual changes are also important.”
Additional authors on this publication include Rachel Chai of the Veblen Lab at CU Boulder; Brian Harvey, previously a postdoctoral researcher in geography at CU Boulder and now an assistant professor at the University of Washington; and Kyle Rodman, previously a graduate student in the Veblen Lab at CU Boulder and now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Leaders of the Colorado mountain town Nederland just gave their surrounding 448-square-mile watershed “fundamental and inalienable rights,” like those conferred on people and corporations — bolstering a movement that has gained traction amid concerns nature is suffering.
The Nederland resolution, which passed 5-1 on July 6, also directs town trustees to appoint guardians who can speak for nature in local decision-making the way court-appointed guardians speak for children, dementia-stricken elders and pop star Britney Spears.
Under current U.S. law, forests, mountains and rivers lack legal rights, let alone standing to be represented in court.
Proponents contend subjugating nature as a commodity, used to satisfy human demands, is leading to disaster as the climate warms and they’re pressing for a new paradigm. But federal and state law can preempt local measures, and property rights groups are girding against what they see as an environmentalist grab for moral high ground.
For now, the focus of the nonbinding resolution in Nederland (population 1,600) is simply to spur deeper conversations about effects of population growth and development — and avoid litigation. Upcoming tests include new construction in the Caribou Ridge subdivision on moose and elk habitat, and a proposed new reservoir along Boulder Creek.
“This may become a national movement. We’re at a very early stage, just getting off the ground with this,” said Nederland trustee Alan Apt, a retired publisher and former Fort Collins councilman who led the local effort. “Human needs are important, and we want to make sure we meet the needs of our human population. But we also need to think about the air, water, wildlife, trees – everything that constitutes nature. It’s a survival issue.”
At a time when studies warn of open space disappearing across the United States at the rate of a football field every 30 seconds, elected leaders in recent years have passed rights of nature ordinances in Santa Monica, Calif.; Toledo, Ohio; Grant Township and Tamaqua, Pa.; Mora County, New Mexico; and Orange County, Fla.
The concept has been circulating for decades after emerging a half-century ago in a law professor’s article. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 recognized possible rights of nature in a case addressing a proposed ski resort development in a federal forest, with Justice William Douglas declaring in a dissent that “public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium … should lead to the conferring of standing upon environment objects to sue for their own preservation.”
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty, urges leaders worldwide “to consider and recognize when appropriate the rights of nature.” The Yurok tribe in California in 2019 gave rights to the Klamath River, and the Nez Perce did so with the Snake River last year. Nature’s rights are enshrined in Ecuador’s constitution, and Bangladesh in 2019 gave rivers the same legal rights as humans.
Crestone in 2018 became Colorado’s first town to pass general rights of nature legislation, part of a push for official certification as a dark skies community that controls light pollution.
Nederland is the first municipality in the Rocky Mountain West to pass a measure specifically designating a watershed, reflecting water’s essential ecological role and recent river-protection court wins in Colombia and New Zealand based on inherent rights of nature.
Organizations leading the movement — the nonprofit Save the Colorado River in Colorado and California-based Earth Law — say legal rights for nature to exist, flourish and be restored will guide local government decisions, from proposals to build new houses and roads to routing of new pipelines to siphoning of water that humans demand…
Colorado voters’ track record on environment-oriented ballot measures, most recently ordering state officials to reintroduce wolves, has opened this as a possibility for establishing legal rights of nature.
“Young people here in Denver and across the state are talking about it,” GreenLatinos and Sunrise Movement leader Ean Tafoya said. “If corporations have personhood rights, why shouldn’t the natural world?”
Denver Water today [July 14, 2021] filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Boulder County, asserting the county is overreaching its authority and jeopardizing a federally ordered reservoir expansion critical to a safe and secure water supply for one quarter of the state’s population while risking long-planned benefits for the West Slope environment.
For nearly two decades, Denver Water has conducted an exhaustive and comprehensive planning and permitting process at the direction and oversight of six federal and state regulatory agencies. That process culminated last year in a final order to commence expansion of Gross Reservoir from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final authority over the expansion project because Gross Reservoir occupies federal lands specifically designated for hydropower production.
For years, Denver Water has also attempted good faith efforts to work with Boulder County to secure county permits, including through two attempts at an intergovernmental agreement, robust engagement with county staff and neighbors, and participation in a local land-use review known as the “1041 process.” Unfortunately, Boulder County has been unreceptive and is using the 1041 process to frustrate the project, extending and delaying its review to the point that it is now placing the entire project at risk.
DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON NEED FOR THE PROJECT
It is hard to overstate the importance of the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the future of the Denver region. It will offer crucial protection to the utility’s water supplies from the urgent threat of catastrophic wildfire and prolonged drought — the same forces that nearly 20 years ago combined to threaten Denver Water’s ability to ensure drinking water to its customers.
This risk to clean water supplies is even higher today, in an era of rapid climate change and increasing periods of extreme weather. Last year’s record wildfire fire season, which generated the three largest forest fires in Colorado history, only just missed triggering major impacts to Denver Water’s supplies. Water providers to the north haven’t been as lucky, unable to treat some supplies running black and brown with ash produced by the Cameron Peak fire. Denver Water must act now to mitigate these risks.
The Gross Reservoir expansion conforms in every way to benchmarks in Colorado’s Water Plan, a plan developed through statewide and bottom-up guidance from eight major river basins over two years and published in 2015. That plan calls for increasing the capacity of existing reservoirs as a key element in creating 400,000 acre-feet of additional storage in the state by 2050.
The State of Colorado, in comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, expressed its support for the Gross Reservoir expansion and has identified it specifically as fitting within the kind of project defined as necessary in Colorado’s Water Plan: “A significant portion of Colorado’s future needs will be met with the implementation of projects and planning processes that the local water providers are currently pursuing, including the Moffat Collection System Project” (aka Gross Reservoir expansion).
The reservoir expansion also addresses the significant need for additional supplies in the metro region, as referenced in the Water Plan’s 2019 technical update. That update projected metro Denver demand will increase by 134,000 acre-feet to 280,000 acre-feet by 2050 against a 2015 baseline and the area likely will experience a supply shortfall, even accounting for the Gross Reservoir expansion and other water projects, a drop in per-capita use, and further conservation and reuse.
DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROJECT
Denver Water’s diligent and earnest work to build partnerships across the Continental Divide, conduct significant and ongoing environmental mitigation for the project and work closely with regulators since the early 2000s has earned the project the support of major environmental groups, Grand County and each of the last five governors of Colorado. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded the project would result in net water quality improvement on both sides of the Continental Divide.
The dam, when built in the 1950s, was designed to be raised. In the 1980s, amid discussion of the Two Forks project southwest of Denver (later vetoed by the EPA) a coalition of environmental groups recommended the expansion of Gross Reservoir as a viable, environmentally stable project. “We feel that additional capacity at Gross Reservoir is an environmentally acceptable and cost-effective way of increasing the overall yield of the system,” the coalition wrote. It included representatives of the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and Trout Unlimited, among several other groups.
Denver Water also worked industriously with local governments and citizen groups on the West Slope to address the impacts that putting more water in an expanded Gross Reservoir would have on streams in Grand County. Those talks, often intense, and spanning half a decade, resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, an unprecedented cooperative effort involving 18 signatories and 40 partner organizations that began a new era of collaboration and conflict-resolution between Denver Water and the West Slope.
Expanding Gross Reservoir locks in a key component to that agreement: Denver Water would place a geographic limit on its service area, putting to rest fears the utility would continue to expand its reach to an ever-sprawling suburban ring. The utility also agreed to several measures that would provide more water to West Slope rivers, towns and ski areas and invest in improvements to aquatic habitat. The landmark concord also affirmed that with the Gross Reservoir expansion, Denver Water would benefit from more flexibility in its system, and it would use that flexibility to address stream flow and stream temperature concerns more nimbly and readily in Grand County.
Additionally, Denver Water worked with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette to establish an environmental pool in Gross Reservoir to provide additional water in South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods. Water in that pool would also supplement supplies for those two cities. Many of these commitments, however, depend on the project going forward and are therefore in jeopardy through Boulder County’s actions.
As planning for the expansion moved ahead, the utility undertook a proactive strategy to reduce demand. It deployed a water recycling facility to reduce its dependence on West Slope water supplies, embarked on a conservation program renown nationally for its success — cutting per capita water use by 22% between 2007 and 2016 — and has now undertaken direct efforts at water efficiency that pinpoint savings opportunities at the individual customer level. These are only a sample: The utility remains committed to innovation to drive further savings and expand water reuse as a core part of its strategy, work that will continue to be essential even with an increase in storage at Gross Reservoir.
In short, the effort to build civic and regulatory support for the Gross Reservoir expansion has been persistent, inspired and earnest. The future of the region, its access to clean, safe drinking water, protection of its urban tree canopy and environment, and its economic development rest in large part on the ability of Denver Water to protect water supplies from emerging threats, develop a climate-resilient system and remain prepared for the demands that will result from continued growth within its service area in metro Denver.
DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON BOULDER COUNTY’S PROCESS
Boulder County is endangering the project through delays, repeated and expanding requests for information — information demands that duplicate the already completed federal permitting process in which Boulder County participated — the potential for months of additional hearings and the fact that two of the county’s three commissioners have already publicly stated their opposition to, and desire to stop, the expansion project.
Further, the county’s land use director informed Denver Water on June 29 that the utility — despite over nine months of diligent and painstaking work to respond to Boulder County’s ever-expanding queries — failed to provide sufficient information to county agencies about the project, setting the project up for failure and rendering further involvement with the 1041 process futile.
These actions also put engineering and construction deadlines at risk, threaten to disrupt FERC-ordered timelines and risk other permits and actions necessary for successful completion of the project. A project of this size and complexity requires extensive preplanning, substantial resources and a highly skilled design and construction team. Delays resulting from Boulder County’s refusal to timely process the 1041 application add substantial costs and cause permitting, procurement and logistical issues that seriously disrupt Denver Water’s ability to execute the project.
In summary, the actions of a single local jurisdiction, Boulder County, threaten to derail and undermine a federally permitted and state supported project vital to a safe and secure water supply for one-quarter of Colorado’s population. This presents an unacceptable risk to a critical project spanning nearly 20 years and involving intensive review by environmental agencies at the federal and state levels and the engagement of dozens of organizations and communities across the metro area and the West Slope.
For that reason, Denver Water must seek relief in federal court. The complaint further details Denver Water’s attempts to work with Boulder County, the reasons that federal law preempts Boulder County’s claimed authority over the FERC-licensed expansion project, and the basis for Denver Water’s request that the court prevent Boulder County from further delaying and derailing the project.
The Colorado Highway 119 Boulder Canyon permanent flood repair project is complete after two and a half years of construction.
The project spanned from Boulder to Nederland to repair damage from the 2013 floods.
Flood waters saturated the area in September 2013, causing numerous material slides, ditch damage and erosion to the roadway embankment. The floods also washed out the road in several places. Large amounts of debris that fell into the creek led to redirected water flows, which further contributed to erosion of the channel banks, undermining the highway.
Altogether, the project included:
13 miles of repaved highway
2 miles of entirely redesigned and reconstructed highway
Rock blasting to widen roadway in areas where highway was washed out
Rock stabilization to prevent rock slides
Cleaned, replaced or added culverts to convey stormwater drainage under the highway
New highway directional and safety signage
Removal of materials placed during emergency repairs
Repaired slopes where material failed in the storm
Re-established native grass seed and erosion control to slopes that were disturbed during emergency recovery work
New, more effective rumble strips
Concrete islands to improve the roundabout in Nederland
3,500 feet of trail extension in partnership with Boulder County
Denver Water cuts back on some of its West Slope supplies to help struggling streams.
The Colorado River is hurting.
The struggles of the river’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been well documented over the last decade as drought has ravished the West.
The story, however, starts more than 500 miles upstream in Grand County, Colorado.
The county is filled with streams that make up the beginning of the mighty Colorado’s journey in the mountains north of Grand Lake. Around 60% of the water in Grand County is diverted from these streams and used for agricultural and municipal water supply, mostly on the Front Range.
That includes the Denver metro area, which receives about 20% of its water from Grand County, where Denver Water has water rights dating back to the 1920s. Most of the water is captured in rivers and streams around Winter Park when mountain snow melts in the spring.
But, after a lackluster runoff season on the West Slope combined with dry soils from the past year, the hot, dry conditions in early June meant the high-country rivers and streams needed help.
Denver Water responded by voluntarily reducing diversions from several Grand County creeks and coordinating with the Colorado River District, Grand County, Northern Water and other Learning By Doing partners to adjust operations, where possible, to help boost water levels in some of the more troubled areas.
“While our primary responsibility is to make sure we’re supplying water to 1.5 million people in the metro area, we’re always looking for opportunities to help improve conditions on the rivers, to help the aquatic environment, recreation and communities they flow through,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.
By reducing diversions, Denver Water foregoes collecting a portion of water it is legally entitled to collect for its water supply in exchange for improving streams and tributaries along the Colorado River.
It started with a plea for help
On June 5, the Colorado River District asked Denver Water for help after reporting extremely low water levels and critically high water temperatures on the Colorado River. The river district reported conditions were creating unhealthy habitat for fish and aquatic insects.
“When the email came in Saturday morning, we were in a position to quickly respond and reduce the amount of water we were pulling from several Grand County creeks,” Elder said.
Denver Water has continued making operational adjustments since that email.
The utility estimates that by early July it will have voluntarily foregone collecting around 11,000 acre-feet of water from Grand County to help keep more water in the Colorado and Fraser rivers. That’s roughly enough water to supply over 44,000 residences for one year.
“It has been helpful to hear directly from stakeholders in Grand County, including Trout Unlimited and ranchers along the river, on where we may be able to truly help the river, the community and the environment with our operational adjustments,” Elder said.
“With help from the West Slope, we’ve been able to target specific areas and send some beneficial water downstream.”
This includes adjusting water releases from Williams Fork Dam twice a day in a way that also benefits the Colorado River.
For example, when releasing water from the dam, Elder and his team try to time the flows, so the water reaches the river in Kremmling — an area prone to higher river temperatures — during hotter times of the day.
The higher water level helps to cool down the water, which is better for the aquatic environment.
Position to help
The wet spring conditions along the Front Range boosted water supplies in Denver Water’s South Platte River collection system, which drastically reduced customers’ demand for water across the metro area — where Denver Water serves a quarter of the state’s population.
In fact, from January to May, Denver Water’s customer water use hit a 50-year low across the metro area, despite nearly 600,000 more people in its service area since 1970. That includes years in which the metro area was on mandatory drought restrictions.
“Some of the low use may be due to COVID-19 impacts on business and obviously a wet, cool spring helped,” said Greg Fisher, demand manager for Denver Water.
“It’s a great sign that our customers really understand efficient water use and let Mother Nature do the watering for them when possible.”
This wet spring on the Front Range also helped provide additional flexibility on how Denver Water collected and distributed water across its collection system during the spring snow runoff.
“We were able to turn off the Roberts Tunnel in April, which helped bring water levels up in Dillon Reservoir for boating,” Elder said.
“The conditions also enabled us to send more water down the Blue River below Dillon Dam to help improve fish habitat around Silverthorne instead of sending the water to the Front Range.”
Denver Water uses the Roberts Tunnel to bring water from Dillon — the utility’s largest reservoir — under the Continental Divide to the Front Range.
But flexibility like this is not always possible, especially with the myriad threats Denver’s water system is facing.
“Between the rising temperatures, changes to the timing of spring runoff, extreme fire behavior and half a million more people expected in the metro area by 2040, our ability for flexible operations is decreasing in a time when we need it the most,” said Elder.
“We must take an ‘all-in’ approach that includes conservation, water reuse and development of new water supplies so we can continue to maximize the benefits of a large system.”
According to Elder, hot, dry weather conditions highlight the benefits of having a large water collection system, as it provides the water planning team more flexibility in its operational playbook.
The vision for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, which is in its final steps of permitting, is an example of how additional water storage can really help streams in times of drought.
“As part of the Gross Reservoir Expansion, some of the voluntary things we’re doing this year — like leaving more water in the Grand County rivers — will become required annual operations for us,” said Elder.
That’s because Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin.
As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County.
“Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water.
“Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”
Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Samantha Glavin and Julie Causa):
Due to recent warm weather and increased snowmelt and runoff, Barker Reservoir is expected to start spilling later this week, as early as this Friday, May 28.
This is a normal and expected event that will increase flows in Boulder Creek throughout the city and residents are urged to take caution near the creek during the high flow period, which may last for several weeks.
Each spring as temperatures warm, stream flows increase due to runoff from melting mountain snow. Before peak stream flows occur at lower elevations (like in the city of Boulder), mountain reservoirs must first fill and start spilling.
Barker spill typically occurs between mid-May to late June, with the exact date dependent on weather, snowpack and early spring reservoir levels.
Barker Reservoir has relatively limited storage space, which means that when the reservoir is full, any excess inflow passes over the spillway and continues flowing downstream into Boulder Creek. To provide a sense of scale, the volume of water that flows through Middle Boulder Creek each spring could fill the reservoir multiple times.
FromThe Boulder Daily Camera (Katie Langford) via The Burlington Record:
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment designated a stretch of Boulder Creek from the mouth of Boulder Canyon through Boulder’s Eben G. Fine Park as impaired in December 2019, and that assessment has not changed…
The city is continuing its program to better understand sewer sheds and creek inflow, Owen said, though it continues to be a “very challenging problem” not only in Boulder, but across the state.
City officials cannot prevent people from entering the creek, but the city has installed signs cautioning people about entering the water, Owen said…
The state continues to monitor Boulder’s progress on reducing E. coli levels, Nason said, and will likely reevaluate water quality in 2023 and updating the creek’s impairment status in 2025.
Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Jen Pelz):
Coalition stays the course in fight to halt construction of tallest dam in Colorado history
A coalition of conservation groups filed a notice of appeal today in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to halt Denver Water’s proposed expansion of Gross Dam in Boulder County and to protect sustainable flows in the Colorado River. The appeal challenges the dismissal by the lower court and asks the appeals court to order review of the merits of the case to ensure the health of the Colorado River, its native and imperiled species, and communities across Colorado that will be negatively impacted by the project…
The conservation coalition, including Save The Colorado, The Environmental Group, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club, originally filed suit on December 19, 2018, in the federal district court of Colorado. The groups’ litigation sought to halt Denver Water’s expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and prevent an additional diversion of water from the Colorado River through its Moffat Collection System due to violations of federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The project would triple the storage capacity of Gross Reservoir and the dam would become the tallest dam in the history of Colorado.
On March 31, 2021, the district court dismissed the coalition’s case finding that it was not before the proper court because the Federal Power Act provides the federal court of appeals with sole authority over hydropower licensing by the Federal Regulatory Commission.
“Given the climate, water and biodiversity crises upon us, we need to be restoring river ecosystems, not destroying them,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “This battle against the powerful water institution is not over and we will continue to fight for water and climate justice by working to reform this broken system of laws and policies.”
“The Sierra Club opposes the Gross Reservoir expansion because of the massive environmental damage it would cause,” said Rebecca Dickson, Chair of the Sierra Club-Indian Peaks Group. “If this project proceeds, hundreds of thousands of trees will be chopped down, countless habitats destroyed, and yet another waterway will be diverted from its natural course to the Front Range. On top of this, immeasurable amounts of greenhouse gasses will be released into the atmosphere during the construction and transportation process.”
“Denver Water’s plan to build the tallest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in seven states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “The basin is slowly dying a proverbial ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as its communities and ecosystems face a water crisis driven by unsustainable demand, prolonged drought, and runaway climate change. We stand with our fellow conservation groups in continuing to oppose this misguided and reckless water grab.”
“The expansion of Gross Dam is a shortsighted response to a long-term problem,” said Beverly Kurtz the President of The Environmental Group. “Denver Water should lead the way in finding sustainable solutions to the challenge of water scarcity, rather than destroying pristine areas of western Boulder County and further threatening the Colorado River with an antiquated dam proposal. Recent data confirm that predicted shortages of water in the Colorado River Basin due to climate change are happening even sooner than expected. Building a bigger dam does not increase the amount of water available. The District Court needs to hear the merits of our case rather than establishing a dangerous precedent by deferring authority to FERC and the federal court of appeals.”
“The year of decision, to not divert more water from the Colorado River, came and went about twenty years ago,” said John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers in Moab, Utah. “We know this is true because the development of contingency planning agreements to avoid water shortages began in 2014 and the urgency to resolve this threat still remains. Yet the contradictions and absurdities to also develop a suite of diversion projects in the Colorado River Basin also remains. If the basin’s water managers will not even adapt to the hydrology they accept, how could they possibly adapt to the hydrology of the future? Our lawsuit is an appeal to accept the truth that the Colorado River has nothing left to give.”
A federal judge has thrown out a legal action from multiple environmental organizations seeking to halt the expansion of a key Denver Water storage facility, citing no legal authority to address the challenge.
“This decision is an important step,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for Denver Water. “We will continue working earnestly through Boulder’s land-use process and look forward to beginning work on a project critical to water security for 1½ million people and to our many partners on the West Slope and Front Range.”
The expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is intended to provide additional water storage and safeguard against future shortfalls during droughts. The utility currently serves customers in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. In July 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the design and construction of the reservoir’s expansion. The project would add 77,000 acre-feet of water storage and 131 feet to the dam’s height for the utility’s “North System” of water delivery.
FERC’s approval was necessary because Denver Water has a hydropower license through the agency, and it provided the utility with a two-year window to start construction.
A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition in U.S. District Court for Colorado against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to rescind those agencies’ previous authorizations for the project. They argued the agencies inadequately considered the environmental impact of expansion…
…Denver Water pointed out that under federal law, appellate courts, not district-level trial courts, are responsible for hearing challenges to FERC approvals. By challenging the environmental review process that led to the project’s go-ahead, the government argued, the environmental organizations raised issues “inescapably intertwined with FERC’s licensing process.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello agreed that the groups’ challenge was indeed wrapped up in the FERC approval.
“[W]here a party does not challenge a FERC order itself, but challenges another agency order that is inextricably linked to the FERC order, the FPA’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision applies and precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction,” she wrote in dismissing the case.
The Daily Camera reports that Boulder County’s approval is the final step for the expansion project.
City council this week will again consider an alternative design for flood control on South Boulder Creek, one that’s been rejected twice before. This time, staff, the open space board and an advisory group of elected and appointed officials are recommending against the plan, pushed by residents opposed to University of Colorado plans for an eventual southern campus.
If city council agrees with that assessment, it will cap an effort to protect south Boulder from flooding — a process that, by the city’s own reckoning, started, nearly half a century ago. Winnowing potential options took two decades…
Council settled on a “final” detention, dam and flood wall design in June, but their vote came with a caveat: One more look at resident-proposed design to detain water further upstream on South Boulder Creek. The Open Space Board of Trustees requested further analysis once it was revealed that flood structures would be built on open space land rather than state right-of-way along U.S. 36.
Upstream detention, as the design is referred two, was ruled inadequate by project staff in 2015 and again in 2018. This time, a staff analysis showed that upstream detention would be more costly than the current plan for the same level of protection and would impact more sensitive habitat.
OSBT agreed on Dec. 16, as did an advisory group assembled by the city that included representatives from OSBT, Water Resources Advisory Board, Planning Board and city council.
“The advisory group concluded that although an upstream alternative could be feasible, it does not perform better than the Variant 1, 100-yr design when considering the June 2020 council comparison criteria, and substantial engineered structures would still be required on OSMP lands.”
From the University of Colorado (Kelsey Simpkins):
A long-term trend of ecological improvement is appearing in the mountains west of Boulder. Researchers from CU Boulder have found that Niwot Ridge—a high alpine area of the Rocky Mountains, east of the Continental Divide—is slowly recovering from increased acidity caused by vehicle emissions in Colorado’s Front Range.
Their results show that nitric and sulfuric acid levels in the Green Lakes Valley region of Niwot Ridge have generally decreased over the past 30 years, especially since the mid-2000s. The findings, which suggest that alpine regions across the Mountain West may be recovering, are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.
This is good news for the wildlife and wildflowers of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north of Niwot Ridge, which depend on limited levels of acidity in the water and soil to thrive. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are also the source of a lot of water for people living in the Mountain West, and the integrity of these ecosystems influences both the quantity and the quality of this water.
“It looks like we’re doing the right thing. By controlling vehicle emissions, some of these really special places that make Colorado unique are going back to what they used to be,” said Jason Neff, co-author on the paper and director of the Sustainability Innovation Lab at Colorado (SILC).
Almost every area in the world, including Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, has been affected in the past 200 years by increased acidic nutrients, like nitrogen, contained in rain and snow. Nitrogen oxides, like nitrate, are produced primarily from vehicles and energy production. Ammonium is a main ingredient in common agricultural fertilizers.
Nitrogen is a fundamental nutrient required in ecosystems. But when nitrogen levels increase too much, this changed soil and water chemistry can make it difficult for native plants to thrive or even survive—leading to a cascade of negative consequences.
In the summer, the sun heats up the Eastern flanks of the Front Range, causing the warmer air to rise—bringing nitrogen from cars, industry and agriculture with it. As this air cools, it forms clouds over the Rocky Mountains and falls back down as afternoon thunderstorms—depositing contaminants, explained Neff.
In the 1970s, so-called “acid rain” hit East Coast ecosystems much harder than the Mountain West, famously wiping out fish populations and killing trees across large swaths of upstate New York. But scientists are still working to understand how increased levels of acidic nutrients affect the alpine region and how long these ecosystems take to recover.
To fill this gap of knowledge, the researchers analyzed data from 1984 to 2017 on atmospheric deposition and stream water chemistry from the Mountain Research Station, a research facility of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and CU Boulder located on Niwot Ridge. They found that around the early 2000s, levels of nitric and sulfuric acid stopped increasing in the Green Lakes Valley. In the mid-2000s they started decreasing.
Their findings were not all good news, however. Levels of ammonium from fertilizer have more than doubled in rainfall in this area between 1984 and 2017, indicating a need to continue monitoring this agricultural chemical and its effects on the mountain ecosystem.
From field work to statistics
This work builds on decades of field work by Colorado researchers at CU Boulder and beyond.
Niwot Ridge is one of 28 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network sites in the U.S., funded by the National Science Foundation. Its 4 square miles stretch from the Continental Divide down to the subalpine forest, 25 miles northwest of Boulder. Researchers at CU Boulder, as well as Colorado State University and the United States Geological Survey, have been collecting data here since the mid-1970s, hiking through snow, sleet and rain to get it.
In the 80s, 90s and 2000s they worked to bring attention to increasing acidification in Colorado mountain ecosystems as a need for pollution regulation in the Front Range.
This new research was made possible by these dedicated scientists, stresses Neff.
“We used water quality modeling and statistical approaches to analyze the long-term datasets that Niwot researchers have been collecting for decades,” said Eve-Lyn Hinckley, a co-author on the paper and fellow of INSTAAR. “The data are available for anyone to download. Our modeling approaches allowed us to evaluate the patterns they hold in a rigorous way.”
Since 1990, Bill Bowman, director of the Mountain Research Station and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been looking into how nutrients like nitrogen affect plants in mountain ecosystems. He’s found that alpine environments are unique in how they respond to these nutrients.
“It’s a system that is adapted to low nutrients, as well as a harsh climate and a very short growing season—and frost in the middle of the season. These are very slow growing plants. And they just simply can’t respond to the addition of more nitrogen into the system,” said Bowman, also a fellow in INSTAAR.
He has also found that these ecosystems recover quite slowly, even after acidic elements like nitrogen are no longer being added. But like Neff, who completed his undergraduate honors thesis with Bowman in 1993 using Niwot Ridge data, he sees this research as encouraging.
Even if it’s slow going, they said, these results show that the ecosystem has a chance to recover.
“We still have air quality issues in the Front Range. But even with those air quality issues, this research shows that regulating vehicle and power plant emissions is having a big impact,” said Neff.
Additional authors on this paper include lead author John Crawford of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and CU Boulder.
Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Phillip Yates):
Recent city wildlife monitoring in South Boulder Creek has discovered New Zealand mudsnails – an invasive aquatic species that can disrupt aquatic ecosystems, harm fish populations and displace native insects.
With the discovery of mudsnails in a creek area near the East Boulder Community Center, the City of Boulder requests community assistance in preventing their spread to additional stretches of the creek and other water bodies. It also advises open space visitors the best way to prevent the spread of this invasive snail is to stay out of the creek.
Adult mudsnails are about the size of a grain of rice and can rapidly reproduce through cloning – a single mudsnail can produce a colony of 40 million snails in just one year. Because they are so small, they can hitch a ride from one water body to another on everything from a dog’s paw to fishing equipment, including boots and waders. Mudsnails can also easily adapt to a wide range of aquatic ecosystems and once established in a creek, there are no practical means of removing them all.
The city reminds residents – particularly anglers and dog guardians – to practice these responsible recreation practices:
Visitors should not access streams or creek areas where mudsnails have been found. If individuals fish in an affected area, they should use a wire brush to remove mud and vegetation from their boots and gear immediately after stepping back onto dry ground.
If dogs enter South Boulder Creek, guardians should carefully brush their paws and bellies on dry land.
Visitors, and especially anglers, should take precautionary steps detailed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife when they are back home or before they go to another body of water. Those measures include freezing boots and gear overnight, soaking equipment in hot water, submerging waders and other equipment in solution specified by CPW, or drying boots and gear – preferably in direct sunlight – for at least 48 hours.
Community members should not flush water used to clean boots or rinse equipment down storm drains.
OSMP has temporarily closed South Boulder Creek access south of South Boulder Road to Marshall Road to help stem further human-caused spread of mudsnails along the creek. OSMP also will install educational advisory signs along the creek encouraging visitors to stay out of the creek in areas that aren’t included in the temporary closure.
During this temporary closure and community-outreach period, OSMP will assess its current management of South Boulder Creek – one of the city’s most diverse creek areas and home to federally protected wildlife and plant species – and may implement additional measures and creek access restrictions. The city currently has year-round New Zealand mudsnail closures in portions of Dry Creek and Boulder Creek.
The discovery of New Zealand mudsnails in South Boulder Creek also has led OSMP to postpone implementation of its Gebhard Integrated Site Project – a habitat protection and recreational access project planned for an area near where OSMP discovered mudsnails. The department anticipates sharing updates about this project with community members in early 2021.
Community members can now share comments about Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project proposal, which is being reviewed by Boulder County.
Although a postcard sent to property owners near Gross Reservoir said public comment about the proposed expansion project should be in by Oct. 14, county staff clarified that community members can comment at any point until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a final decision.
The current Oct. 14 deadline is for referral agencies and even that may be pushed if enough agencies request an extension. If an extension is granted, a new postcard will be sent to property owners, according to Boulder County.
While Boulder County spokesman Richard Hackett said it’s helpful to have community comments in early, he stressed there is no official deadline or cutoff. Some adjacent property owners, such as Timberline Fire Protection District, also are referral agencies on the project, which Hackett said is part of the explanation for the postcard’s wording.
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here.
Meanwhile, community members can submit questions or written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting Department’s review of a planned expansion of Gross Reservoir in western Boulder County is underway, officials announced Thursday.
This is the latest in a years-long dispute between Boulder County and Denver Water, who owns and operates the reservoir and dam. A Boulder District Court judge in December 2019 affirmed the county’s right to require that Denver Water go through its 1041 land use review process in order to expand the reservoir…
“Denver Water put in a request to determine if the expansion project would be exempt from our land use code,” Boulder County spokesperson Richard Hackett said.
However, the water utility company in July dismissed that appeal soon after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for Denver Water to continue with design and construction after the county told the company it would not conduct the review while the litigation was ongoing. The regulatory commission’s approval stipulates that project construction begin within two years. The project in 2017 received the other permit it needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here. Hackett said the agencies reviewing the application have until Oct. 14 to return initial comments, although the county has the right to extend that deadline due to extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus.
In the meantime, community members can submit questions or written comments to email@example.com. There is no deadline for doing so. Comments will be accepted until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a decision.
“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, said in a recent statement…
At the same time, Denver Water has its own case with Boulder County, which initially denied the utility’s request to be exempt from a local review of its plan. A Boulder district judge ruled in December that Denver Water must go through the county’s review process. Denver Water has appealed that decision through the Colorado Court of Appeals and must file an opening brief by Aug. 4.
This means that ultimately county officials could have a say over approval of the expansion. Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said they have that power thanks to a series of Colorado statutes referred to as 1041 Regulations.
Boulder County could also request another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hughes declined to say whether his office will do so.
After receiving that federal approval, Denver Water said it plans to finish the design phase of the expansion next year, followed by four years of construction.
“The FERC order is an important advance for the project,” a Denver Water spokesman said in an email to CPR News. “From here, related to legal matters, we’ll need to take some time to evaluate our options and the appropriate next steps.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has registered more than 100 waterbody segments on its impaired waters list due to alarmingly high E. coli levels
…public health officials are taking this fecal bacterium quite seriously, as summer temperatures make Colorado’s waterways ideal breeding grounds for Escherichia coli. Policymakers and scientists across the state are working to decipher which types of microbes are lurking in the water, and whether they actually pose a significant threat to human health…
100 waterways considered “impaired” by E. coli
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has registered more than 100 waterbody segments on its impaired waters list due to alarmingly high E. coli levels. While only certain strains of E. coli cause illness in humans, officials do not yet have the capacity to pinpoint in any real-time fashion where and when these strains congregate.
Among the newest segments on the list is the stretch of Boulder Creek between the mouth of Boulder Canyon and 13th Street…
Prior to the latest update in January, the CDPHE had considered only the portion from below 13th Street to its confluence with South Boulder Creek to be impaired…
The city of Boulder isn’t sure where the contamination is coming from, but a team led by Candice Owen, the stormwater quality supervisor, is trying to figure it out. She and her team will be taking more frequent dry weather discharge samples toward the end of the recreation season, when E. coli concentrations are typically highest, she said. The city also recently began posting precautionary signs along the creek, in English and Spanish, indicating the periodic presence of bacteria…
The CDPHE’s Monitoring and Evaluation list, or M&E list, includes waterways in which two, three, or four water samples have exceeded the EPA’s recreational-waters standard of 126 colony-forming units (cfu) per 100 milliliters. For more serious violations, in which there is “overwhelming evidence” of contamination, waterways end up on the state’s list of impaired waters, officially known as 303(d). The Water Quality Control Division defines overwhelming evidence as exceeding water quality standards by more than 50%.
While EPA standards consider recreational waters to be impaired if E. coli levels exceed 126 cfu per 100 mL – as opposed to 235 cfu per 100 mL necessary for swim beach closures – the CDPHE warns that risk of becoming ill still exists in these waters.
CDPHE recommends that people take precautions if they choose to swim in impaired waterways, mainly by avoiding swallowing water and washing their hands upon exiting. To minimize further contamination of the waterways, the department advises showering before entering, taking children on frequent bathroom breaks and staying out of the water when ill with gastrointestinal symptoms…
Boulder Creek is far from alone in its E. coli problems – with quite a formidable competitor at Confluence Park in Denver, where the South Platte River and Cherry Creek come together.
When storm drains undergo flushing or sediment in streams is stirred up, so, too, are the E. coli lurking in these spaces, explained Jon Novick, environmental administrator at the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. Like Owen, Novick said pinpointing the bacteria’s exact sources is difficult, but he noted that raccoons congregate near the park and homeless individuals also camp along the river…
…Denver has launched a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the problem – particularly within the stormwater outfalls where “urban drool,” like irrigation return flows and other untreated water tends to accumulate, Novick said. For example, he said, the city has installed UV filtration systems that are quite effective in eliminating E. coli from sewage during dry weather…
Confluence Park samples collected on July 14 indicated that E. coli levels were above recreational standards at both the Cherry Creek and South Platte River testing sites, which Novick attributed to that day’s storm. The Cherry Creek spot is typically the greater offender of the two, due to its shallow water level, sandy bottom and shaded environment, he said…
Nonetheless, Novick acknowledged that officials don’t really know whether exposure to E. coli in impaired waters actually leads to illness. Public health agencies do not typically survey bathers to find out if swimming in the creek has made them sick, he said.
[On July 17, 2020], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.
Seventeen years ago, Denver Water began the federal environmental permitting process that lead to approvals by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.
“Obtaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order to move forward with the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process — one that involved nearly 35 agencies and organizations — to a close,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “This order directs Denver Water to move ahead with construction to meet mandated milestones and timelines.”
“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. 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,” Lochhead said.
The design phase of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is expected to wrap up by mid-2021 and will be followed by four years of construction. The project involves the raising of the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, which will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, and includes 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the cities of Boulder and Lafayette.
“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,” said Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. “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 FERC order, along with the permitting conditions put in place by CDPHE and the Corps, further commits Denver Water to implement environmental improvements by putting in place measures evaluated in the environmental assessment issued in February 2018.
The project relies on the expansion of an existing footprint — without the placement of a new dam, reservoir or diversion structure; it also benefits from an original design that anticipated eventual expansion. Increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir was a specific and formal recommendation from the environmental community as an alternative to construction of the proposed Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s.
Denver Water has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 different environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that create new habitat and flow protections to rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will have a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.
This project has earned the support of major environmental groups including Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates; local, state and federal elected officials (including Colorado’s last five Governors); and major business and economic development groups, among others.
An expanded Gross Reservoir is critical to Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach — including efficient water use, reuse and responsibly sourcing new storage — to improve system balance and resiliency while contributing to water security for the more than 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area.
The FERC regulates the production of hydropower in the United States. As a Federal Power Act project dating back to 1954, expanding Gross Reservoir required the FERC’s approval of Denver Water’s application to amend its hydropower license. This approval and order carry the force of law and are the final federal authority over the reservoir project.
Stormwater and flood management utility capital projects are funded primarily by monthly user charges, with costs spread out using 20-year revenue bonds. The annual debt service payments associated with such bonds are factored into utility rates through the annual budget process. So, those of us living in Boulder pay for all of these projects on our water utility bills.
Examine your own bill to see your fixed monthly charge on the line “Stormwater/Flood.” The fee is used to support flood infrastructure, regulatory compliance, water quality monitoring and hazard programs. These fees have increased by 135% since 2013, and Boulder leads the area for the highest stormwater and flood rates, not surprisingly, since Boulder is the Colorado city most at risk for flash floods.
City staff presented details to the Water Resources Advisory Board on the preferred option, Variant 1, 100-year flood protection, which was found to have the least environmental impacts, the lowest cost, and the greatest probability of permitting feasibility through the various regulatory agencies. The cost of this version is projected to be $66 million. Other alternatives, a 200-year and a 500-year, are estimated at $93 million and $96 million, minimally a $27 million difference…
…three of the WRAB board members…and voted, with two other members dissenting, to accept the city’s preferred plan, suggesting that Council move forward into more detailed planning and engineering analysis. WRAB member Ted Rose said that “this is about acting, actually moving forward to protect our fellow citizens.” Board Chair Kirk Vincent and member Trisha Oeth, brought up equity concerns of differing flood protection levels across the community, the huge backlog in aging infrastructure, and the inability of many customers — renters, churches or schools — to afford rates that could double…
Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan next week, followed by the Open Space Board of Trustees and, finally, City Council, in June.
…there’s a risk that [Robin Andrews] and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That’s because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.
For decades, DuPont manufactured PFAS-type chemicals in a plant close to Andrews’ home in this tiny South Jersey town on marshy land near the Delaware River. Her grandfather and father both worked at the sprawling plant, known as the Chambers Works, which covers 1,400 acres of riverbank in the shadow of the bridge to Delaware.
In 2017, after she developed unexplained high liver enzymes, her well water tested positive for PFAS; she now runs it through a large filtration system in her basement and has it monitored every three months.
DuPont “could have been a great company and a very good thing for this area had they chosen to take care of people and to be responsible with the way they disposed of these toxins,” Andrews told NBC News. “But they weren’t. I believe it was an economic decision to put people at risk.”
Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont’s moves with concern. “They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won’t have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little,” he said.
On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.” The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.
Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation…
In 2015, as problems associated with PFAS were becoming clearer, DuPont began a series of complex transactions that transformed the company’s structure. As a result of the transactions, responsibility for environmental obligations associated with the chemicals shifted onto other entities.
The first shift by DuPont occurred in 2015, when it assigned the great majority of liabilities associated with PFAS to The Chemours Company, a new entity containing DuPont’s chemicals business that was spun off to its shareholders…
In a statement provided to NBC News, DuPont spokesman Turner denied that the Chemours spin-off was an attempt to evade environmental and legal liabilities associated with PFAS. “The reason for the spin-off,” Turner said, was that DuPont “was seeking to transform itself into a higher growth, higher value company” and “saw more growth opportunities in its other businesses.”
A second spin-off was Corteva Inc., in 2019, an agriculture science company that holds other legacy DuPont operations and some PFAS liabilities.
The third transaction occurred last June when so-called new DuPont was created. Formerly known as DowDupont, its businesses include electronics, transportation and construction. Because of the two other spin-offs, new DuPont is two steps removed from PFAS obligations…
Chemours, with primary responsibility for the estimated tens of billions of dollars in PFAS obligations, does not have anywhere near the money or assets to cover them. Chemours’ net worth — its assets minus liabilities — stood at just $695 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.
If Chemours becomes insolvent, Corteva Inc. will be responsible, corporate filings show. Corteva does not have the funds to cover tens of billions in estimated PFAS costs either. Turner declined to say whether PFAS responsibilities would ultimately revert to DuPont if Chemours and Corteva are unable to pay them. A lawyer for Chemours declined to comment.
Corporate spin-offs like DuPont’s that transfer liabilities associated with problematic businesses are becoming more common, analysts say, especially in the energy and chemical fields.
“You’re seeing it again and again,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Spinning off your legacy liabilities into a separate corporation and to some other responsible party appears to be part of the standard playbook in these industries.”
DuPont is not the only PFAS manufacturer under scrutiny. Another is 3M, headquartered in Minneapolis. Both companies stopped making PFAS over a decade ago. 3M is fighting the suits and says it is cooperating with government investigators.
DuPont and 3M both face lawsuits over problems allegedly linked to PFAS. But DuPont’s shift of its PFAS liabilities to Chemours has drawn its own raft of litigation. In a complaint filed last year against DuPont by Chemours, it contended that the 2015 deal was fraudulent. DuPont knew and intentionally hid the scope of the liabilities when it dumped them into Chemours, the company alleged.
In response, DuPont says Chemours executives were well aware of the PFAS problems at the time of the spin-off and could not have been duped. Next up is the judge’s ruling on oral arguments in the case…
Legal filings allege DuPont knew for decades that PFAS posed a threat to humans…
In early PFAS cases, lawyers for plaintiffs found internal, undisclosed DuPont documents showing toxicity in PFAS. While the company has acknowledged the findings in court filings, it argued that they were either inconclusive or applicable only to employees working with the chemicals, not to people drinking tap water near DuPont facilities.
The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that DuPont began to recognize toxicity in the most common PFAS chemical in the 1960s but did not tell the state or local communities about the problem.
DuPont has not answered the New Jersey complaint but in previous lawsuits, DuPont has denied that it hid PFAS risks. DuPont spokesman Turner declined to say how long DuPont knew about the toxicity of PFAS, but said the company has provided extensive information over the years to the EPA about potential harm related to the chemicals.
The New Jersey suit also says DuPont hid the results of a 1981 blood sampling study of pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals that found one-quarter had children with birth defects…
The potential that shareholders will take on undervalued liabilities is greater in spin-offs, merger experts say. That’s because the kind of in-depth due diligence that a third-party buyer would do to to determine possible liabilities is not typically done by new owners in a spin-off. Those owners are essentially trusting the parent company to be forthcoming about the obligations.
Had DuPont instead sold its legacy chemicals businesses to another company, the buyer would have dug into the obligations associated with its PFAS production prior to the purchase. Any resulting deal would take those potential liabilities into account, resulting in either a lower sale price, an insurance policy or a right by the buyer to recover costs from DuPont later.
Because DuPont’s existing shareholders took on the liabilities in the Chemours and Corteva spin-offs, that detailed assessment was not done. The Chemours lawsuit alleges that DuPont pursued the spin-off so it “could control the transaction structure and economics” after concluding that “no rational buyer” would accept the liabilities associated with PFAS.
DuPont spokesman Turner disputed this, saying that multiple firms submitted proposals to acquire Chemours before the spin-off. He declined to provide specifics about those companies, however, or their bids.
Back in 2015, when DuPont was preparing to spin off Chemours, the parent company made insufficient disclosures about the environmental liabilities to be shouldered by the new shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. The company had to provide more details, regulatory filings show.
The action filed to the Colorado Court of Appeals raised several issues to be addressed by the higher court, including whether Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Macdonald erred in his Dec. 27 decision by concluding Boulder County had not exceed it jurisdiction, abused its discretion or misapplied the law in determining it had regulatory control over the project.
“While we appreciate the district court’s consideration, we respectfully disagree with the conclusion and have decided to exercise our right to further review by the court of appeals,” Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said in a statement.
“The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is a vital component of developing a more secure, reliable drinking water supply for a quarter of the state’s population,” he added. “In the face of the uncertainties of climate change that bring more frequent and extreme droughts and precipitation events, we’ve come together with partners on both sides of the divide to ensure the project benefits the environmental health of our entire state.”
Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had planned to start construction in 2019 on what would be the largest construction project in Boulder County history, raising Gross Dam by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet, and increasing the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet.
A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…
Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…
Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.
In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.
“We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.
If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.
Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.
“The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.
So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.
The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.
Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.
State officials last month designated a new, and popular, stretch of Boulder Creek from the mouth of Boulder Canyon through the park as “impaired” due to elevated levels of E. coli.
But tubers, swimmers, fishermen and women will still likely be able to take a dip this summer if they wish.
The new designation by the state for the creek’s west Boulder stretch adds to the existing impairment of the waterway from 13th Street east to its confluence with South Boulder Creek, according to Colorado Water Quality Control Division spokesperson Ian Dickson…
The determination was made based on a “robust” data set of measurements for the E. coli bacteria, Dickson said.
“Every two years, the (state health) department works with the (Water Quality Control) Commission to examine water quality data and identify impaired waters,” Dickson said. “… The department thanks city of Boulder for this information, and we encourage communities to continue to send data so we can work together to protect the environment.”
Boulder spokesperson Meghan Wilson said the city is working on a communication strategy for informing residents and potential creek users of the newly designated impaired stretch of creek. But unlike a swimming beach at a reservoir or other body of water, local officials have little ability to restrict human access to a stream like Boulder Creek, Wilson said…
…earlier in the week, Dickson did offer a response to Boulder Waterkeeper data the advocacy group used to assert there is a that there is a “human waste footprint” to the detected E. coli.
E. coli is a bacterial marker for fecal pollution, which lives in the intestines of humans, wildlife, cattle and dogs, but is not always harmful to humans. However, one strand, known as 0157:H7, can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and even life-threatening conditions…
“The one sample taken does not provide conclusive evidence that human source bacteria were present. The strain of bacteria the lab tested for could also come from other animals, such as raccoons and geese. Again, the lab indicated more data is needed to determine whether the strain is from humans versus other animals. At this time, even with these E.coli and human fecal bacterial levels, there is no indicator of an illicit discharge or other noncompliance with the university’s permit.”
After the 2013 floods devastated communities and took several lives, the state of Colorado is remapping the regulatory floodplain of the most affected waterways in Colorado.
“It’s important to provide public and local land use managers with the most accurate flood risk information so they can make better decisions,’ explained Thuy Patton, Flood Mapping Program Manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In some counties, there are areas that now have higher flood risk and other areas that now have lower flood risk, which changes which homes are in the flood plain. NOTE: these numbers are approximate, based on public information, and are subject to change.
In Boulder County, with this update, 420 new structures are in flood risk area and approx. 400 structures are now not in special flood hazard area, Patton explained.
In Jefferson County, 53 structures were added.
In Larimer County, 601 structures were added and 1,571 were removed.
In Weld County, 453 structures were added and 1,994 were removed.
In Sedgwick County, 85 structures were added and two were removed.
In Washington County, 26 structures were added and 31 were removed.
In Morgan County, 38 structures were added and four were removed.
And in Logan County, 222 structures were added, while 59 were removed.
FEMA uses Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to set flood insurance premiums. The Preliminary FIRMs will become FEMA’s final effective FIRMs in 2021, pending any appeals received by FEMA.
Boulder County is starting a series of public meetings about the changes. Representatives from FEMA, the mapping team, and Boulder County will be present at each session. Each open house will focus on specific reaches, but residents are invited to discuss any stream at each meeting:
Lower Boulder Creek, New Dry Creek, Coal Creek, and Rock Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 14 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Recycling Center – 1901 63rd Street in Boulder County
Saint Vrain Creek, Lower Left Hand Creek, Dry Creek #2, and Little Thompson River – Thursday, Jan. 16 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Parks and Open Space Ron Stewart Building – 5201 St. Vrain Drive in Longmont
North, Middle, and South Saint Vrain creeks and Cabin Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 21 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Highlands Presbyterian Church – 1306 Business Highway 7 in Allenspark
Little James Creek, James Creek, Upper Left Hand Creek, and Geer Canyon – Tuesday, Jan. 28 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Jamestown Town Hall – 118 Main St. in Jamestown. This is a joint meeting between Boulder County and the Town of Jamestown
Fourmile Canyon Creek, Two Mile Canyon Creek, Gold Run, Fourmile Creek, Boulder Creek and North, Middle, and South Boulder creeks – Thursday, Jan. 30 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.). Boulder Public Library Main Branch, Boulder Creek Room – 1001 Arapahoe Ave. in Boulder
In a seven-page ruling, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald stated that based on evidence placed on the record by both sides in the controversy, he found Boulder County “did not exceed its jurisdiction or abuse its discretion, or misinterpret or misapply the law,” when it asserted its permitting authority.
That authority, Boulder County has maintained, is established by State House Bill 1041, passed by the Legislature in 1974, which allows local governments to review and regulate matters of statewide interest through a local permitting process.
Denver Water challenged that authority by filing suit in Boulder District Court in April of this year, claiming what it termed a “zoned law exemption” which it asserted excused it from having to pass through the county process. Denver Water’s complaint claimed the zoning at the reservoir that existed at the time of the passage of the 1041 legislation — officially known as the Activities and Areas of State Interest Act — permitted its planned activities.
Additionally, the suit stated Boulder County commissioners had exceeded their jurisdiction and/or abused their discretion at a March 14 hearing at which they unanimously upheld Land Use Director Dale Case’s finding that the county review process must apply to Denver Water.
Macdonald’s ruling struck down Denver Water’s claim to an exemption based on prior zoning.
“There is nothing on the record that Denver Water had any well-established development rights to expand Gross Dam and Gross Reservoir prior to May 17, 1974,” he ruled. “Any prior contemplated expansion projects cannot be determined to be well-established development rights because the proposed Expansion Project is essentially an entirely new construction project.”
In an email Friday night, Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said, “As we continue to follow the process of determining the appropriate permitting methods, we will review the order and evaluate our next steps. No matter the path forward, we remain committed to considering input from Boulder County and from community members to minimize and mitigate the impacts of the Project.”
An additional hurdle remains for the project. Denver Water is still waiting for a final decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on a hydropower licensing amendment that Denver Water needs in order to go forward with its planned expansion of the reservoir.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Anne Manning):
Gross Dam spillway design being put to the test by CSU civil engineers
On any given day, the roar of water cascading over a 20-foot-high dam spillway greets visitors to Colorado State University’s Hydraulics Laboratory. Muck boots are required footwear, as water from the spray spreads across the floor, drains into an under-floor reservoir, and flows back toward an outtake pipe for recycling.
The experimental spillway, constructed by CSU civil engineers, is a test bed for an ambitious dam-raising project in southwest Boulder County by Denver Water. CSU engineers are applying their hydraulics expertise to help verify key design and functionality aspects of the spillway, part of the public utility’s planned upgrade to Gross Dam. The reservoir impounded by Gross Dam provides water to more than 1.4 million residents along Colorado’s Front Range.
The engineering team designing the project for Denver Water, Stantec and primary subcontractor AECOM, commissioned civil engineering professors Chris Thornton and Rob Ettema to create a 1:24 working scale model of the heightened dam’s new spillway. The spillway is the only portion of the dam over which water passes.
A project of this magnitude requires a physical hydraulic model, Thornton said.
“Computers have come a long way, but they’re not even close to being able to resolve what’s happening in terms of interaction of forces,” Thornton said. “Turbulence and air entrainment are very hard to model accurately.”
Taylor Hogan, a civil engineering master’s student and Hydraulics Laboratory manger, led the design and building of the model, which required close to 500 custom-built pieces. It is called a stepped spillway, which dissipates energy from the water as it flows over the dam. The steps slow the water, trap air bubbles, and allow water to safely descend. Adding to the model construction’s complexity is a slight arch to the spillway profile – mimicking the current profile.
The CSU engineers are now testing and documenting performance, including capacity, flow rate, and ability to handle a major influx of water from a storm or natural disaster. When complete, Gross Dam’s will be the tallest stepped spillway in the United States.
The planned height of the dam necessitated the stepped design. The dam is slated to be raised 131 feet over its current height of 340 feet, increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir by about 25 billion gallons.
“The expansion will allow Denver Water to add balance and resiliency to its water collection system, which today is at risk of damage from natural disasters such as wildfires and floods,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project program manager. “It will also help to manage the greater uncertainty that comes with a changing climate.”
The Stantec/AECOM team specified that the spillway be able to manage extreme high flows they estimate to be possible during the rare occurrence of a massive storm.
“The spillway is designed very conservatively and must perform safely when exposed to extreme conditions,” Ettema said.
The CSU researchers are wrapping up the modeling work for Stantec/AECOM to complete the spillway design. The remaining work includes optimizing the layout of the energy-dissipation basin at the bottom of the spillway, to ensure Gross Dam’s design meets safety requirements. Design engineering on the overall dam project is expected to extend through the end of 2020.
The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.
When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.
“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.
Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…
Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.
Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…
Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.
“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.
As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.
Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.
Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.
Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.
“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”
Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.
His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.
“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.
He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.
“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.
He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.
Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.
Denver Water’s five-member Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday approved a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, for planning and pre-construction work during the final design phase of the $464 million Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
If the team’s performance during the planning and pre-construction phase meets Denver Water’s expectations, a separate contract to build the dam may be signed between Denver Water and Kiewit Barnard.
“This is a major milestone in our 16-year effort to expand Gross Reservoir, as its original designers intended decades ago, to ensure a more reliable water supply in a future marked by greater uncertainty in weather patterns,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead.
Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding suburbs.
The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam, completed in 1954, by 131 feet, allowing the reservoir to nearly triple in size. When complete, the reservoir will be capable of holding about 119,000 acre-feet of water to provide greater system balance and resiliency.
The selection process for a construction manager/general contractor for the project began in August 2018 with information meetings, followed by a formal Request for Qualifications in October 2018. Three teams responded to the request and underwent extensive evaluations and interviews by a selection team that included experts from Denver Water, the project’s design engineer and subject matter experts.
The selection team focused on a value-based competitive process that examined each team’s qualifications, project approach, technical approach and cost.
“Kiewit Barnard met Denver Water’s high bar for doing a project that’s important not only to the 1.4 million people who rely on us for their drinking water, but also to the people who live around the reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s program manager for the expansion project.
“We were impressed by the team’s experience with roller-compacted concrete dam construction, innovative approach and commitment to safe and responsible building practices,” Martin said.
The project calls for adding 900,000 cubic feet of concrete to the existing structure and building the first roller-compacted, concrete, arch dam in the United States. When complete, the Gross Dam will be the tallest in Colorado and the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam in the U.S.
“Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, is very pleased to have been selected to work on this important project to support water demand for the greater Denver area,” said Jamie Wisenbaker, senior vice president of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., and an executive sponsor of the project. “We believe the team’s collective infrastructure experience in dam and reservoir construction and engineering will be a huge asset and look forward to safely delivering a high-quality project on time for Denver Water and the region.”
Kiewit is one of North America’s largest construction and engineering organizations with extensive heavy-civil experience in water/wastewater construction, including serving as lead contractor on the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery project in California. Kiewit is the No. 1 contractor for dams and reservoirs in the United States according to Engineering News-Record. The company also has strong roots and experience in Denver and across Colorado, including having constructed the Interstate 25 T-REX Expansion project, the U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon emergency repair project and the I-225 Light Rail Line project. The company also is building Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant.
Barnard Construction Co. Inc. brings a long track record of safety and quality on infrastructure projects in the U.S., including construction on more than 80 dams, reservoirs and dikes over the last four decades. The company’s work in this area includes new construction, raising dams and conducting emergency repairs. In 2019, Barnard was honored as a “Global Best Project” award winner by Engineering News-Record in the dam/environment category for the Muskrat Falls North and South Dams project located in Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is awaiting a final federal government approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Provided the remaining federal approvals come by the end of this year, the project is slated to be complete in 2025.
When finished, the expanded reservoir and associated mitigation projects will create what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has described as a net environmental benefit to state water quality by generating a wide range of environmental improvements to streams, river flows and aquatic habitats.
Belly boaters, swimmers, inner-tubers and body surfers take note: You can now do your thing on Clear Creek in Jefferson County.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has removed its ban on water activities that had been considered too dangerous on July 1 because of fast water flows.
The ban – which had extended from State Highway 119 to Golden – has been lifted for swimmers and those using all single-chambered air inflated devices including belly boats, inner tubes and rafts, said a sheriff’s office news release Friday.
Today, July 12, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office ended all restrictions for activities on Clear Creek, including limits put in place through Golden circa July 1. Likewise, the Boulder Police Department has removed a tubing ban on Boulder Creek, which resulted in the postponement of the city’s annual Tube to Work Day…
By the way, Boulder’s Tube to Work Day is now scheduled to get underway at 8 a.m. on Friday, July 19. Life jackets and wetsuits are strongly recommended to be worn beneath business attire, and mandatory items include helmets, closed-toe footwear and waivers.
With the North Star Nature Preserve flooded and space dwindling under bridges, county open space officials are asking boaters to put in at the popular float spot’s midway point until further notice.
“We’re encouraging everybody across the board … to put in at Southgate,” Pryce Hadley, ranger supervisor for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said Monday. “The water is high for July and people need to be careful.”
The lack of Front Range diversions adds about 550 cubic feet per second to the Roaring Fork River, they said. That water began flowing down the Roaring Fork on Thursday evening, and the river peaked at just over 1,000 cfs July 6, Hadley said. It was running at 779 cfs Monday morning, he said…
“That’s still well above the 300 cfs we had midday on July 4,” Hadley said.
And that means boaters who begin at the normal North Star put-in at Wildwood are not going to be able to make it under a pedestrian bridge and a car bridge at McFarland Gulch, he said. While some stand-up paddlers might be able to make it under the bridges lying on their bellies face down, most likely cannot, Hadley said.
Portage is not possible either, he said, because the bridges and surrounding land are on private property, he said.
The expansion, in the works for more than a decade, is part of the company’s long-term plan to help meet increasing water demands along the Front Range and buffer customers from future water-supply variability due to climate change…
Denver Water has been met with sustained opposition from Boulder County residents and a handful of environmental groups who say the utility can address its water needs through expanded water conservation efforts on the Front Range.
But with Colorado’s population growth showing no signs of slowing, water conservation may be inadequate to address projected shortages in the coming decades.
Other concerns raised by opponents include sustained disruption to surrounding residents, increased traffic, health concerns and environmental impacts to fish and wildlife.
Gross Reservoir is filled primarily from snowmelt that flows from the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The water is transported underground from west of the Continental Divide to the east by a pipeline called the Moffat Water Tunnel.
The controversy over the Gross Reservoir expansion, estimated to cost $464 million, echoes an all-too-familiar story: a highly contentious discussion of tradeoffs that has rippled across the Western United States for decades.
As cities and states across the West grapple with swelling population alongside diminishing water supplies as a result of climate change, water-resource agencies such as Denver Water are faced with the delicate task of balancing the health of ecosystems with municipal, agricultural and recreational needs…
Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s project manager for the expansion project, doesn’t skirt around the controversy. He recognizes that the project is going to cause disruption and says that Denver Water has worked with the residents to find ways to minimize the project’s impact.
“This has been a process,” Martin said. “We started in 2004, it took 13 years to move through the environmental assessment and permitting process. And we’ve made a lot of changes and adjustments to our plans since the beginning.”
“No single solution is out there,” he said. “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency, and what I mean by resilience is that we have to make sure we have the water when we need it, and where.”
For Patty Limerick, director of the CU Boulder’s Center for the American West and former Colorado Historian, you can’t talk about water issues on the Front Range without first looking back in time.
When early white explorers arrived here, they deemed the Front Range unfit for settlement due to lack of water. Today, 1.4 million Denver residents have access to clean drinking water due in large part to Denver Water’s enormous infrastructure web that diverts water from the South Platte, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser river watersheds to be stored in a network of reservoirs spread over eight counties, including Dillon, Strontia Springs and Cheesman.
“One thing that I find fascinating, and is important to talk about, is the incredible amount of engineering that had to occur to make any of this possible in the first place,” Limerick said.
“We, as a society, have to recognize the improbable comfort that was made possible by a taken-for-granted, but truly astonishing, water infrastructure that was put in place a hundred years ago.”
“The year 2018 was very similar to what we would expect to see under a climate change regime. And that was a very intense but short-term drought,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“We saw some reservoirs in the state declined by 50 percent in a three- to four-month period. So that obviously could not be sustained multiple years in a row,” she said. “Water providers are increasingly integrating climate change models into their water supply projections. They know that what we’ve seen in the past might not fully represent what we might see in the future. Denver Water is one of the more advanced utilities when it comes to this.”
Finnessey says it’s not just about how much precipitation falls from year to year. It also has a lot to do with increasing temperatures, contributing to the long-term drying out of the West, a phenomenon scientists are referring to as aridification. As temperatures rise, more moisture is sucked up by the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, leaving less viable water for humans-use in the system.
“We are planning for infrastructure that will be built in the next 20 years, that is supposed to last for the following 100 years,” said Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute. “Our world is changing significantly faster than that. And not in a linear way. How do we adapt to that?
“Water managers have to plan for extremes,” he added. “A year like this year is an argument for reservoirs. Even with climate change, you’re still gonna have some good years. And we need to be able to capture it and save it for the bad years, whether that’s in underground aquifers or in reservoirs.”
From the editorial board (Quentin Young) of the Boulder Daily Camera:
Denver Water serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding communities, and that figure will rise substantially in the coming decades. As more residents demand service, climate change increasingly will exert its own strain on the water supply. One of the primary ways the utility plans to meet this imminent challenge is by expanding one of its northern storage facilities, Gross Reservoir, in the foothills southwest of the city of Boulder.
The project has met with intractable opposition. It’s the subject of lawsuits and uncertain government reviews. Neighbors are scandalized by the prospect of years of disruptive construction, and some environmentalists contend the project won’t even be able to perform its intended purpose.
But a dispassionate consideration of the project leads to the conclusion that Denver Water’s plan to expand Gross Reservoir is a reasonable and responsible measure, provided the utility proceeds with the utmost sensitivity to the residents who would be impacted by construction and with the expectation that increased storage is no substitute for continued conservation efforts.
The roots of the project go back to the proposed Two Forks Dam. Denver Water had proposed storing water from the Colorado and Platte rivers by building a 615-foot dam southwest of Denver near Deckers. But a coalition of environmental groups successfully opposed the project, which the Environmental Protection Agency spiked in 1990. Environmentalists argued at the time that a better option would be for Denver Water to expand a storage facility it already operated: Gross Reservoir.
Now that the utility is following opponents’ former advice, environmentalists have changed their mind about Gross. The project would raise Gross Dam by 131 feet to 471 feet, roughly tripling the reservoir’s current capacity of 41,811 acre-feet (for comparison, Denver Water’s largest reservoir, Dillon, has a capacity of more than 257,000 acre-feet). Critics say the expansion would result in the state’s tallest dam, and much of the opposition focuses on the project’s substantial environmental impact. It would require years’ worth of noisy construction, traffic and the removal of about 650,000 trees. The reservoir pulls water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, and critics argue that the utility should refrain from further depleting that waterway, which runs all the way to the Gulf of California and is subject to the Colorado River Compact, an agreement that governs water allocation in seven states that rely on the river as an invaluable resource. Population growth in the Southwest has stressed the river, and climate change is expected to further compromise the river’s capacity to deliver water to users. Some Gross expansion opponents even assert that there won’t be enough water available from the Colorado River Basin to fill a bigger reservoir. And anyway, the opponents say, water needs can be met through conservation rather than dam-building.
Construction to expand Gross Reservoir would indeed bring acute hardship to nearby residents, and concern for local environmental damage should not be dismissed. But construction is temporary, and the environmental impact seems less intolerable than merely regrettable when weighed against the project’s purpose of ensuring for decades the delivery of a vital resource to thousands of people.
Utilities should be judicious in exercising their rights to Colorado River Basin water, but the volume associated with the proposed Gross expansion is relatively small. The entire Denver Water utility accounts for less than 2% of the state’s total water use, while it serves about 25% of the population. As part of planning for the expansion, Denver Water worked with West Slope communities in the Colorado River Basin to earn support for the project, efforts that in 2012 resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The CRCA, which depends on final approval of the Gross Reservoir expansion, calls for Denver Water to help restore habitats and maintain flows in the Fraser River, a Colorado River tributary in Grand County. Some West Slope officials so favor implementation of the CRCA that a Grand County commissioner in March warned of “a ton of litigation” were Boulder to block the Gross expansion.
Colorado River flows will almost certainly decrease due to climate change in future decades. A widely cited 2017 study suggests the river increasingly will be subject to droughts, and flows could drop more than 35% by the end of the century because of higher temperatures. But this doesn’t necessarily constitute an argument against expanding Gross. No one can claim with certainty that flows would drop such to render useless an expanded reservoir, but Denver Water would certainly be justified in viewing the threat of persistent droughts and lower flows as a reason to increase storage capacity, since there’s more incentive to collect water during the fewer occasions it’s available. The utility would be seen to have failed customers were it to find itself with nowhere to store precious water to which it had rights.
That Denver Water should do more to promote conservation gets no argument here. The utility’s customers have already demonstrated that they can get by splendidly with reduced volume — they’re using about 20 percent less water today than 15 years ago, according to Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead — and there’s much room for further conservation. But conservation has limits, and Denver Water says it won’t be able to meet future demand solely by this method. In Denver alone, the current population of 729,000 is expected to swell by more than 20% in just 20 years. Besides, the project is meant not just to add yield to the utility’s system but also stability. The vast majority of Denver Water’s storage is in the south part of its system, and forest fires near those facilities, such as the Buffalo Creek Wildfire in 1996, have exposed a vulnerability that an expanded Gross would address.
The proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir has provoked waves of protest from Boulder County residents, and the county has asserted what it claims is its right to review the project. Known as a 1041 process, the move is contested by Denver Water. But though Denver Water doesn’t serve Boulder-area residents, water users throughout Boulder County every day enjoy the use of water pulled from the Colorado River, and water customers in such Boulder County communities as Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Erie and Superior are participants in the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves the construction of a whole new reservoir, not just an expansion, west of Carter Lake to store water from the Colorado River Basin. (That project similarly is tied up in litigation.)
Denver Water has already secured the bulk of required regulatory approvals for the expansion of Gross Reservoir. A final decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose staff has already recommended approval, is pending. Denver Water needs the FERC approval, because Gross also serves as a hydroelectric facility. Roadblocks include a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups that is led by Save the Colorado and Boulder County’s 1041 review.
Boulder County officials have a legitimate interest in reviewing what would be the largest construction project in county history, and they are encouraged to take an exhaustive look at Denver Water’s plans. Any objections to the expansion of Gross Reservoir, however, should be based on factors intrinsic to the proposal, not on a mere preference for Gross to be left alone.
Quentin Young, for the editorial board, firstname.lastname@example.org, @qpyoungnews
FromThe Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry) via The Denver Post:
An environmental group’s motion to intervene in a dispute between Denver Water and Boulder County over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir was granted by a judge on Tuesday.
Court documents show Boulder District Judge Andrew Ross Macdonald will allow the group, Save the Colorado, to enter the case as a party on behalf of Boulder County, the defendant in the suit.
Denver Water filed the complaint against the county after it decided the utility would have to subject its controversial proposed dam expansion — which would be the largest construction project in the county’s history — through the county development approval process.
The case is still moving through court, with Denver Water trying to avoid subjecting its project to county [1041 regulations].
Here’s a report from Joe Purtell that’s running in the Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
American Alpine Club Library Director Katie Sauter spends a lot of time in the climate-controlled special collections room, flipping through hundred-year-old photographs, black and white images of climbers posing in front of the world’s mountains and glaciers in the early 1900s. While the library is primarily maintained for climbers and historians, there is another interested cohort: glacier scientists.
Scientists periodically email the library, or even show up in Golden, looking for rare old photographs. Sauter says that while she has received requests for photos of the remote Ladakh region of India — and, closer to home, the Arapaho Glacier northwest of Nederland — they are largely focused on the same thing.
“Glaciers, mostly,” she says, “to see how much it’s melted.”
Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a University of Colorado and NOAA partnership, estimates the Arapaho Glacier has lost 75 percent of its ice in the last 100 years. To get an idea of the glacier’s range at the turn of the century, he turned to old photographs.
“We probably used some of those photographs estimating the size of how the area of Arapaho Glacier has changed since the beginning of the 1900s, then moved on to satellite data more recently,” Scambos says.
When doing his own imagery, Scambos uses high-resolution images taken from different angles to construct a three dimensional model of the glacier’s surface. His team has used ground-penetrating radar to map the glacier’s internal workings. Still, when scientists want to establish a glacier’s historic range, they are left to search through old photos…
Beginning only a few years after the invention of the modern film camera, the Mountainview Collection offers some of the earliest available images of North American glaciers. At the time, the photographers would not have suspected their images would one day be used to recall ice flows that traversed entire ranges — ice that today appears as lakes in photos taken from the same vantage points.