Denver Water ‘evaluating options’ after Gross project ruling

Reservoir expansion is necessary for future Arvada developments

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/22/20

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 …

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Denver Water ‘evaluating options’ after Gross project ruling

Reservoir expansion is necessary for future Arvada developments

Posted

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.

Located in Boulder County and owned by Denver Water, Gross Reservoir provides water to customers within Denver Water’s service area which, in addition to Denver, generally encompasses an area that stretches west through Lakewood and Wheat Ridge and south through Ken Caryl, Centennial and Lone Tree. All customers in these areas will contribute to the project through their water rates, said Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman.

Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water.

The reservoir was completed in 1954 and can store roughly 42,000 acre-feet of water, but after expansion, could store about 77,000 acre-feet.

“This is an extremely important project for Denver Water and more importantly, for our customers,” said Jeff Martin, the project’s program manager. “This project will provide a secure reliable water future for our customers” in situations like droughts, he said.

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.

The timeline

The organization has aimed to finish construction of the Gross project by the end of 2025, a timeline associated with the project’s 404 permit, Martin said. The permit is issued when planners demonstrate they have taken necessary steps to avoid potential impacts to nearby water resources.

Today, Denver Water feels the project is still on track to meet the time constraints of its 404 permit, Martin said. However, it is difficult to predict when construction can begin because of several ongoing things, he said.

There are a few essential next steps before more planning and construction can go forward. One is that the project needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prior to entering the design phase.

Another is the 1041 permitting process. The process requires those constructing a water project to show specific future impacts, particularily environmental, of the project.

In March, Boulder County commissioners determined that the project would need to go through the 1041 process. Denver Water petitioned to the state court because the project had already undergone multiple environmental reviews at the federal level and prepared an environmental impact statement, Martin said.

In December, the court ruled that Denver Water would need to go forward with the 1041 process.

Martin said that Denver Water executives are “still evaluating their options on the 1041” and are currently unsure if an alternative solution might be reached.

Earlier in 2019, Denver Water attempted to submit a 1041 application to the county, but the county did not accept the application because litigation was pending, Martin said.

Should the 1041 process move forward, Denver Water believes the process would take less than a year, he said.

A second court case

However, environmental group Save the Colorado seeks to call the future of the project into question with another legal case. Together with five other local, regional and national environmental groups, Save the Colorado filed a lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers for issuing the 404 permit.

Save the Colorado tracks proposed dams and diversions, intervening when it feels projects will negatively impact the environment, said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado. The groups are against the expansion project because it will take additional water from the Colorado River, he said.

“With this project, the ecology becomes worse for the fish, for recreation, for everyone,” he said. “We’re trying to stop it.”

The groups expect a ruling by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. Should the court rule in Wockner and his allies’ favor, that ruling could come in several different forms, Wockner said.

The ruling may require the project to reobtain the 404 permit or it could put an end to the project altogether, he said.

The environmental organizations feel that “Denver Water needs to focus on water conservation” in its existing projects, as opposed to creating new projects, Wockner said. “If that isn’t enough, they need to focus on other sources than the Colorado River.”

However, Denver Water holds that it is constantly evaluating its practices to promote conservation and environmental protection.

The Gross project “is not just about building a dam; it’s about how we’re going to change how we operate,” Martin said. “We’re making sure we’re really being environmental stewards.”

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