Denver Water’s dam expansion is foolhardy in a time of drought – The Denver Post

Why would Denver Water ratepayers pay a half-billion dollars for a dam expansion when it is highly questionable that it will yield much more water? Why did Denver Water use past water flows in its modeling to fill the reservoir, when the Colorado River water flows that will be used to fill the reservoir are precipitously declining due to climate change and long–term drought?

Denver Water ratepayers should be asking these questions.

We oppose Gross Dam expansion because it is the largest and most environmentally destructive construction project in the history of Boulder County. That is why it was especially painful to make the decision to accept a settlement with Denver Water over the question of Boulder County’s authority to regulate the project.

That decision would not have been on our plates had Denver Water not proposed this environmentally disastrous project to begin with.

But Denver Water ratepayers should oppose the project for an additional reason. While the devastating impacts of clearing forest lands, blasting and quarrying, and construction of a dam that is 131 feet higher than the current dam, will be in Boulder, Gilpin, and Jefferson Counties, the environmental impacts from this project will occur throughout the Colorado River basin, at a time when increased heat and decreased precipitation makes the future of the Colorado River uncertain.

And yet, there has been scant public discussion in the Denver press about the far-reaching environmental impacts and high cost of this project. Denver Water ratepayers and water users have largely been silent as this unprecedented project has crawled along for the past 20-plus years, even though these ratepayers will be paying the half-billion-dollar price tag.

The Colorado River is in severe distress due to a 20-year drought caused by higher temperatures induced by climate change. Climate experts say that temperatures will continue to increase. Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, recently told Newsweek that a new study published in Science “strongly suggest(s) that future Colorado River flows will trend strongly downward as temperatures warm in the 21st century, potentially catastrophically.”

In 2000 Lakes Mead and Powell were roughly ful — now they are only about 30% full and approaching crisis levels. And last year for the first time ever, there was a federal declaration of a “Tier 1 Shortage” on the Colorado River. Colorado and Wyoming reservoirs were ordered to release more water to save lakes, Powell and Mead. Bearing this in mind, we can foresee Gross Reservoir soon suffering the same fate.

This project reflects obsolete thinking from the 1930’s Hoover Dam days when water engineers drove policy with large projects without consideration of environmental impacts. Instead of further depleting the Colorado River, Denver Water should be enacting the conservation and reuse policies needed to live within its existing resources.

As Boulder County moves forward with determining how to mitigate the devastating local environmental impacts of this project, we urge Denver Water ratepayers to ask why they are paying for this destructive and unneeded project.

Claire Levy was a state representative and executive director of Colorado Center on Law and Policy before being elected to the Boulder County Commission. Marta Loachamin has worked to address systemic barriers designed to foster inequities along the Colorado Front Range in finance, real estate, business, education and as a consultant before being elected as a Boulder County Commissioner. Matt Jones is a Boulder County Commissioner and former state senator where he worked on water conservation and climate issues.

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