The Audubon Society of Greater Denver is literally taking on the U. S. Army in an attempt to stop the Chatfield Reservoir reallocation project from going forward.
“We were not surprised, but very disappointed, that the Corps continues to …
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“We were not surprised, but very disappointed, that the Corps continues to promote the most environmentally damaging alternative for additional water supply in the south metro area, for such a poor return on the rate-payers' investment,” reads the latest Audubon newsletter.
Col. Joel R. Cross, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District commander, put the final seal of approval on the project on Oct. 9. On the same day, Audubon filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to stop the project.
“Unfortunately the Corps of Engineers selected the most environmentally damaging alternative for the Chatfield project. It's a bad deal for the public and for Colorado,” Polly Reetz, Audubon's conservation chairwoman, said in a statement. “The Corps of Engineers' approved plan will provide only a highly unreliable water supply yet will cause substantial environmental damage to Chatfield State Park, one of the state's most heavily used and biologically diverse state parks.”
According to a statement from the Corps — which operates the dam — reallocating storage from a flood-control pool into a joint conservation/flood control pool will raise the water level by 12 feet. Because water will cover more of the park, there will be “significant modifications to relocate and replace existing recreation facilities, resources and project roads with new facilities and roads,” reads the statement.
Some, including state Democrats and the Audubon Society, worry that the project could irrevocably damage the park's ecosystems.
“The Chatfield Enlargement Project as proposed is a poor use of tax dollars, as it will extensively damage all public and environmental resources of Chatfield State Park, inundating river and forest that is habitat for 375 species of birds and other natural creatures, while other less damaging alternatives are available to project sponsors,” reads a resolution passed on April 12 by the Colorado Democratic Party.
The statewide Water Supply Initiative estimates Colorado will need between 600,000 and 1 million acre-feet annually of additional water by the year 2050. The Corps expects this project to add 8,539 acre-feet of water a year for municipal and industrial use at less cost than other water supply alternatives.
The Corps acknowledges there could be adverse effects on recreation and the environment that will be “mitigated to the most sustainable alternative to below a level of significance.”
Corps spokesperson Gwyn Jarrett said design will begin almost immediately, and the noticeable work will begin in two to three years.
The final report concluded that this is the least costly option and has the most local support. It says the $183 million project will provide $8.42 million annually in economic benefits.
Communities downstream from the dam have expressed concern that the changes will negatively impact the South Platte River as it runs through them, and the Corps acknowledges those flows are a key uncertainty.
“While mitigation and modification plans have been developed … in coordination with resource agencies, there is still a level of concern that implementing a reallocation could lead to a somewhat different condition for which environmental mitigation or recreational facility modification has not been designed appropriately,” reads the study.
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