Chatfield Reallocation Project: “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it” — Polly Reetz

July 10, 2014
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):

The Army Corps of Engineers has approved an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir that will also bring some infrastructure improvements to the park, but patrons shouldn’t expect to see work done any time soon. According to Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett, it could be three to four years before work is underway and two to three years after that before it’s complete.

The project was approved in late May and has been in discussion since the mid-1990s. The expansion will add 20,600 acre feet of water capacity — which could raise water levels in the reservoir by 12 feet — for joint use, flood control and water conservation. The $183 million project will help supply water providers in the metro area and across the Front Range as population and demand increases.

“This project will meet a portion of the expected demand in Colorado,” Jarrett said. “It’s not going to solve the problem, but it will help with the growing population.”

Once construction does start, most of the work will be done in the off-season, but people can expect that certain portions of the park could be closed at times. Part of the construction will include improving some of the amenities at the park such as new recreation buildings, picnic tables, beach areas and bathhouses.

“A lot of amenities date back to the mid-to-late 1970s when the project was constructed,” Jarrett said.

Chatfield State Park manager Scott Roush said the park doesn’t have to do much to get ready for the construction, but his staff will be involved with the design process when that kicks off, possibly this fall.

Part of that discussion will include the marina, which may have to move because of the rising water levels.

Public feedback had not been all positive, as some organizations feel that this project will damage some environmental aspects of the park.

The plan will flood more than 500 acres of the park and inundate some cottonwood trees near the reservoir, destroying habitat for several species of birds.

“We initially thought at first that (the project) was fairly benign, but we didn’t know that it will do massive environmental damage on one of the largest parks in the metro area,” said Polly Reetz, conservation chairperson for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

Reetz had other problems with the plan, saying that increasing the capacity of the reservoir doesn’t guarantee more water. She was also displeased that the state passed legislation to permit loans to water providers in order to pay for the project.

Roush said that while they will lose some trees, some would be relocated to other parts of the park.

“There’s been a lot of feedback about the cottonwood trees. We’re going to lose some trees; they will come back eventually,” he said.

But Reetz said there is no guarantee that the trees will come back and she was surprised the corps went with the proposal, saying it was the most harmful environmentally.

“It’s a really bad deal for the public,” Reetz said. “This a premier state park, and it’s going to have the heart knocked right out of it.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


Tribune Opinion: U.S. Army Corps approval of Chatfield water project is ‘big deal’ for some Weld County farmers

June 11, 2014

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE


From The Greeley Tribune editorial staff:

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re glad to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers give its blessing to a proposal to expand Chatfield Reservoir south of Denver.

The Chatfield Reallocation Project, as it’s officially called, would cost $184 million and raise the lake by 12 feet. There are a dozen participants in the project, including the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley.

Without the approval of the Army Corps, the project wouldn’t move forward. But the Corps last week officially signed off on the plans, including its wildlife-mitigation efforts and other efforts to minimize the impacts of the project.

“It’s a major milestone,” said Randy Knutson, president of Central Colorado’s board of directors. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we at least have the needed approval now to do that work.”

One might wonder why Greeley-area farmers would be interested in a reservoir expansion project south of Denver. The reasons are complicated, but in essence the new Chatfield water will allow some groundwater wells in this part of the state to begin pumping again.

Central Colorado oversees two subdistricts providing augmentation water to farmers in the LaSalle and Gilcrest areas and other parts of south Weld.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. But because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community — many in the Central Colorado’s boundaries — have struggled to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

For example, the price of a unit of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water has more than doubled to over $20,000 per unit since January 2013.

Thousands of groundwater wells in the area have been curtailed or shut down in recent years, and the Chatfield project will help get some of those wells pumping. Through some water exchanges and trades, Chatfield will provide an additional 4,274 acre-feet of water annually to some of Central Colorado’s water users.

It’s not easy to get Army Corps approval for water storage projects. That’s a “big deal,” as Knutson says, to help irrigate thousands of acres in Weld County that have been dried up in recent years.

Water officials estimate it will be 2017 before the new Chatfield water can be used in northern Colorado, but nonetheless we join many farmers and Central Colorado water users in celebrating the news.

Here’s the release from the Corps of Engineers (Gwyn Jarrett/Eileen Williamson):

The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, approved the Chatfield Reservoir, Colorado, Storage Reallocation Project in a Record of Decision sent to the Omaha District on May 29.

In the accompanying memo, Darcy said, “The proposed reallocation project alternative is technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified.”

The Omaha District released the final Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (FR/EIS) in July 2013, regarding the request from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to evaluate using Chatfield Reservoir as a solution for meeting future Front Range water needs while balancing the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams.

Gwyn Jarrett, project manager said, “The Corps has worked with the Department of Natural Resources’ Water Conservation Board in Colorado, 15 water use districts, multiple interested stakeholders and non-governmental organizations, including environmental groups, through a highly collaborative process, which helped lead to the approval of this complex, comprehensive project.”

The feasibility report and environmental impact statement aligns with the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act, to ensure public input plays a major role in the decision making process and that impacts to wildlife, vegetation, ecosystems, water and air quality, flood control, cultural resources and other factors are properly mitigated.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works, Steven L. Stockton, requested approval of the FR/EIS earlier this year. In his request, Stockton included an addendum to the report, which provides an update to project costs for Fiscal Year 2014, as well as a summary of public and agency comments on the Final FR/EIS, completed biological opinions related to the South Platte River and the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, and the finalized Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report.

On learning of the Record of Decision, Jarrett said, “The Corps worked with many outstanding agency and organization representatives on this project to assist the State of Colorado in meeting a portion of its growing water demand.”

The project will allocate 20,600 acre feet of storage in Chatfield Reservoir for municipal and industrial water supply and other purposes including agriculture, environmental restoration, and recreation and fishery habitat protection and enhancement.

By reallocating storage from the exclusive flood control pool into a joint conservation/flood control pool, the conservation pool level at Chatfield will increase by 12 feet, and provide an average of 8,539 acre feet of water per year for municipal and industrial use at less cost than other water supply alternatives.

Implementation of the pool rise and use of the reallocated storage will occur incrementally as recreational and environmental mitigation projects are completed. The reservoir operations plan will also be modified to reflect the changes.

In addition to water supply benefits, the FR/EIS states that flood control capabilities at Chatfield and within the Tri-Lakes system will not be affected. The pool raise and more frequent fluctuations in pool elevations will require significant modifications to relocate and replace existing recreation facilities, resources and project roads with new facilities and roads.

The plan includes expansive environmental mitigation to replace or compensate for habitat on Chatfield project lands inundated by the pool raise, including wetlands, bird habitat and habitat (including designated critical habitat) of the federally threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. The selected plan includes up to five years of monitoring the environmental mitigation features and adaptive management to ensure mitigation success.

Associated costs including the updated cost of storage, water supply infrastructure, recreation area modifications and environmental mitigation will be funded at no cost to the Federal government.

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


HB14-1333: Legislature to fund Long Hollow project — The Durango Herald #COleg

May 9, 2014
Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

A Southwest Colorado water district can expect $1,575,000 from the Legislature to help build a dam just off the La Plata River. It’s one of the few water projects statewide the Legislature is funding this year.

Long Hollow Reservoir, about five miles north of the New Mexico border, is being built to help farmers and ranchers in southwestern La Plata County keep water through the dry months, while at the same time letting the state meet its legal obligation to deliver water to New Mexico.

“Part of the reservoir would be for interstate compact compliance when Colorado has a difficult time making deliveries to New Mexico,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwest Water Conservation District…

With the money from the state’s water projects fund, Long Hollow reservoir should be finished by fall, he said. Most of the money to build the reservoir was set aside when the Animas-La Plata Project was scaled down.

The Legislature’s annual water projects bill, House Bill 1333, often has something for water users all across the state. But this year, Long Hollow is the only construction project to get direct funding. The bill also makes up to $131 million in loans to two projects on Denver’s south side – an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir and a water-efficiency and reuse project in the southern suburbs.

The bill has passed the House on a 61-1 vote, and it is on track to pass the Senate early this week.


Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project: Episode One

December 28, 2013

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Highlands Ranch water rates to go up in 2014

November 30, 2013
Highlands Ranch

Highlands Ranch

From the Highlands Ranch News (Ryan Boldrey):

Following spikes of 2 percent in 2012 and 3.8 percent in 2013, Highlands Ranch residents are expected to see rates go up 6.8 percent this coming year. This year’s proposed increase is due to the district’s involvement with both the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) and Chatfield Reallocation Project, said Bruce Lesback, CWSD director of finance and administration…

“We held off as long as we could before increasing rates to this level for our customers, but it appears both projects are now going forward,” Lesback said.

For CWSD, the two projects are a major step toward cementing a long-term water supply and not relying as much on groundwater or leased water.

“We’ve got many years of full supply, but some of that full supply comes from leases that are not long-term,” CWSD General Manager John Hendrick told Colorado Community Media earlier this year. “We want to add to our portfolio with long-term or near-permanent surface water sources.

“We’ve got ample groundwater for droughts, but in wet years we’ll now be able to take in more than we need to and top off our reservoirs with surface water.”[...]

A public hearing was held Nov. 25 on the proposed CWSD budget. The board of directors will vote to adopt the 2014 budget at its Dec. 16 meeting.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Chatfield Reallocation Project presents their ‘Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan’ to CPW

November 17, 2013
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Philosophically, the proposed water storage expansion of Chatfield Reservoir makes some sense. In reality, it makes some headaches.

Participants of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project took their turn before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in Lamar on Friday, formally presenting the “Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan” essential for approval of the proposal to double the water storage in the south Denver reservoir. The presentation started the 60-day review clock for commission approval required by state statute and offered a closer look at the likely impacts to one of Colorado’s most popular state parks.

“No water project is without environmental impacts and the statute doesn’t require that the impacts be eliminated, it requires that we mitigate them,” said Mike King, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. “(The participants and stakeholders) are to be commended for being creative in getting us to this point. I’m hopeful that we can get this across the finish line in the next couple of months.”

The hurdles to be overcome at Chatfield range far beyond the environmental, however. The 1,423-acre reservoir and surrounding topography serve as a cornerstone of the state park system, annually attracting more than 1.5 million visitors and generating some $2.2 million in revenue. Impacts to the park during and after inundation of 587 additional acres are expected to be significant.

Wide fluctuations in water levels are anticipated as additional municipal and agricultural water storage join the reservoir’s current primary uses of flood control and recreation. An additional 12 vertical feet of potential water fluctuations is likely to have considerable impact on park operations and will require the relocation of multiple facilities when the reservoir fills to its new level.

The law does not require that a mitigation plan for recreation impacts be approved by the commission, however project participants have proposed plans to alleviate unavoidable impacts to recreation facilities and amenities.

“Areas that were recognized as being potentially impacted included the park, fish and wildlife, recreation and financial,” said Randy Knutson, board member of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Mitigation plans for all these impacts either have been developed or are in the development phases.”

“We feel that we’ve gone above and beyond the state law requirement,” added Randy Ray, water resources manager for the Centennial Water & Sanitation District. “This plan addresses all the concerns.”

While the 11 project participants have pledged up to $116 million to finance the potential impacts identified in studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, concerns remain. Foremost among them is the reservoir’s dramatically fluctuating water level.

Under the state park’s current operating agreement with Denver Water, Chatfield typically fluctuates no more than five feet between Memorial Day and Labor Day, offering recreational users reliable water levels for boating, fishing and other summer activities. The “Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Mitigation Plan” notes that the new “fluctuation zone” could be up to 21 feet, citing a comparison study of six other Front Range reservoirs showing that impacts (mud, weeds, mosquitoes, etc.) would be negligible.

Project participants insist that the reallocation proposal will have a positive impact on the South Platte River downstream from Chatfield, including an improved fishery as water is conveyed to downstream users from mid to late summer and through fall and winter. The “new reservoir” effect of added nutrients also has potential to improve fishing within Chatfield in the short term, although fluctuating water levels have been associated with elevated mercury levels in walleye at other reservoirs.

Reallocation participants have agreed to maintain water levels in the reservoir during critical walleye and smallmouth bass spawn periods. They also announced a new plan to preserve a gravel pond popular among recreational users that was initially subject to inundation.

“It’s an ongoing process. I feel better about some of the changes that they’ve made but we’ve got 60 days still to work through some of the details,” said Ken Kehmeier, a CPW aquatic biologist working on the project. “Bottom line is that it won’t be the Chatfield that everybody knows right now.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.


The draft Chatfield Watershed Plan is ready for public comment

November 9, 2013
Chatfield Watershed via the Chatfield Watershed Authority

Chatfield Watershed via the Chatfield Watershed Authority

Here’s the release from the Chatfield Watershed Authority via the Littleton Independent:

The group working on a vision for the future of the Chatfield watershed has developed a draft plan and wants the public to weigh in.

“The Chatfield Watershed Plan provides an essential framework for prioritizing and protecting our local natural resources,” Casey Davenhill, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, said in a press release. “It also offers citizens educational information to help adults, kids, pet owners, farmers and others take responsible action to safeguard public health and safety that ultimately affects water quality in all of our communities.”

The CWA was established in 1984 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in an effort to protect water quality throughout the watershed, which includes parts of Douglas and Jefferson counties. Member agencies include the Audubon Society, Denver Water, a variety of water and sanitation districts, several municipalities, the Denver Urban Water Partnership and many more.
The plan focuses on stream restoration and mitigating the effects of wildfire and erosion. It calls for diverting runoff away from areas polluted by such things as animal waste and deteriorating septic systems, in an effort to protect the groundwater and the South Platte River south of Chatfield Reservoir.

“In addition to its primary purpose of flood control, (Chatfield) serves as one of many water-supply reservoirs for the City of Denver and other Front Range communities, which is why it’s essential for all citizens to understand how human, animal and recreational activities affect water quality and the natural ecosystems that co-exist with one another,” said Julie Vlier, supervising engineer at Tetra Tech, the firm that conducted the study for CWA. “The inclusive public process in which the watershed plan has been carefully developed focuses on the practical actions that will lead to significant improvements to water quality in this vital watershed.”

CWA will accept public comments through January, then organize them in time for a final public meeting in the spring. It can be viewed at http://www.chatfieldwatershedauthority.org; click on “Watershed Plan,” then “Plan Documentation.” Send comments to julie.vlier@tetratech.com.

This plan is entirely separate from the pending Chatfield reallocation project, the final draft of which was released in September. It can be viewed at http://www.chatfieldstudy.org.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


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