Littleton lends support to Chatfield project

Critics say the proposal to increase storage capacity at Chatfield Reservoir could turn the park into a prairie and the South Platte River into a mud puddle. Proponents say it could be the solution to the region's ever-increasing water struggles. Photo by Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith
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Littleton City Council members last week unanimously approved comments that support the Chatfield reallocation project and its goal of increasing water supply to the metro area.

But that support didn't come without some reservations.

“While Littleton continues to support the Chatfield reallocation project, it is concerned that the (Army Corps of Engineers) has not given sufficient consideration to the potential environmental impact that may result under the (plan),” they write. “Specifically, Littleton is concerned that the potential impacts to aquatic and riparian habitat immediately downstream of Chatfield in (South Platte Park) have not been adequately addressed.”

In an effort to help meet the growing demand for water in the metro area, the Corps recommends reallocating 20,600 acre-feet of water from flood control to usable storage. This would raise the water in the recreation area by 12 feet, covering more of the park with water and requiring reconfiguration of the marina and other amenities.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated 37 alternatives to the Chatfield reallocation and determined this project to be the best alternative to provide the requested storage,” reads a recent press release. “The Corps also believes all of the impacts of the Chatfield reallocation project can be mitigated.”

Council noted that the Corps says a minimum of 10 cubic feet per second of water flowing north through the South Platte River would benefit the fish habitat, but the number of days that would happen would be reduced under the proposal.

“This reduction in flow will, according to the (Corps' statement), have minimal or no impact to aquatic biota, while at the same time proper management of releases to achieve a minimum of 10 cfs could `greatly improve' fish habitat,” writes council. “It is difficult to see how both statements can be true.”

Council points out the study was designed to predict levels during months and years rather than hours and days, potentially masking the real impacts. It also didn't take any measurements between the dam and Denver, where several tributaries contribute to water levels. It would like more discussion among stakeholders to better define specific solutions.

The Corps statement acknowledges there will be environmental impacts.

“A plan for full mitigation is in place and will be funded by the water providers who will use the storage,” it reads. “The water providers will also pay to move and replace recreational facilities impacted by the higher water level. All recreational amenities will be preserved.”

The statement lists 49 entities supporting the plan, including Denver Water and a host of smaller water districts, several upstream counties and towns, the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority, Shea Homes, some water conservation boards and environmental groups.

Mike Mueller of the Sierra Club told the Corps his club is supporting the project because of the “use of the existing infrastructure for new water storage, thus avoiding use of additional land and creation of additional environmental impacts of constructing a new reservoir and/or pipeline to bring water into Colorado.”

The Audubon Society, on the other hand, isn't yet convinced.

“We have spoken with attorneys and identified several legal issues in the draft environmental impact statement, mainly regarding compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act,” wrote Pauline Reetz, conservation chair of the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, in a letter to the editor of the Littleton Independent. “However, we want to review the (final plans) and exhaust all administrative methods to see that the biological and recreational assets of Chatfield State Park are preserved intact. At that point we might need to consider legal action.”

The Highlands Ranch Metro District has also submitted a letter of support, and the Highlands Ranch Community Association joined them this week, with some reservations. It expressed concerns with potential damages to the environment and recreational amenities in its letter, but Chairman Scott Lemmon said he felt confident that these concerns were being addressed by the Corps.

“I think that the long-term water security for Highlands Ranch far outweighs the 500 acres (of recreational space affected), even though it is a concern,” said board member Brock Norris.