The recent approval of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project potentially means a partial solution to the state's water woes, but it definitely means some changes at the state park surrounding the dam.
According to a statement from the Army …
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According to a statement from the Army Corps of Engineers — 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.
“Chatfield State Park, one of the premier parks in the state of Colorado, will offer users many new facilities and continue to provide high-quality recreation activity opportunities to devoted park enthusiasts with this reallocation project,” said Gwyn Jarrett, project manager, in a statement.
But some, including state Democrats and the local chapter of 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.
Polly Reetz, conservation chair for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, says of the four options the Army Corps considered, the one they chose is the worst.
“It's a bad deal for the public to mangle a state park for very little water,” she said.
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 of Engineers 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 proposed reallocation project alternative is technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified,” wrote Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, in her decision.
The Corps of Engineers 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.”
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.
The Democrats' resolution asked that no state money be used to “subsidize water interests that participate in and support this ill-conceived, extremely damaging” and speculative project.
But a bill passed by the Colorado Legislature last session authorized the Colorado Water Conservation Board to allocate nearly $88 million of its annual budget for loans to six Chatfield water providers so they can purchase storage space in the Chatfield reallocation project.
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 Army 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.
Reetz struggles to understand why other options weren't considered, such as storing water in already available gravel pits or the existing underground aquifers. She said Audubon is looking at options to determine if there is still a way to stop the project.
“This is a trend in Western water projects,” she said. “They promise anything to build it, then they say `Oh my God, we ran out of money,' or the political will changes, and the people of the United States end up on the short end of it.”
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