The discharge is occurring at a location very near the Moffat Tunnel and is derived from a culvert located beneath a set of metal stairs that descend right to the banks of the Fraser.
The UPRR has a permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officially allowing the discharge of the water, but correspondence between Grand County officials and representatives from the CDPHE indicates the current level of pollutants being released are not allowed under the existing permit.
In correspondence with state officials Grand County has stated the organic compounds found in the discharge are toxic and some are carcinogenic. Emails written by Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris to officials from the CDPHE states, “the Railroad has classically discharged these organics, without disclosure to the state, in high concentration pulses which escape routine sampling. The existing and proposed permits do not currently include any organics, let alone include limitations for these.”
Emails sent by Morris to officials from the CDPHE on Wednesday Sept. 28 state, “I hope the CDPHE will have the opportunity to investigate this case further and address this specific source of contamination.” Officials have also sent photographs to the CDPHE of the point of discharge that show dark, black, almost opaque water flowing from the discharge culvert into the Fraser. The photos appear to have been taken on Sept. 14, 2016.
Notably, a letter sent on Sept. 19 by Morris to the State’s Clean Water Enforcement Unit, a division within the CDPHE, states, “The Railroad curtailed the polluted discharge by 5:00 pm on the same day that that we were notified of the pollution.”
Correspondence between Morris and CDPHE officials indicates the permit allowing the discharge of water into the Fraser by the UPRR has been in existence since 2007. Additional email correspondence between Morris and State water officials states, “UPRR has stated that this discharge is associated with annual maintenance activities, and the Railroad has declined to report the discharge as a spill. However, nothing in the permit indicates that pollution of this level is permitted, and it would seem to be a violation of their permit.”
A water treatment plant, to treat the water discharged into the Fraser by the UPRR, is currently under construction, according to a letter sent to the CDPHE by Grand County in late June regarding a draft permit for the UPRR’s Moffat Tunnel West Portal.
The letter goes on to state, “To the best of Grand County’s knowledge, there is and has been no treatment of this discharge prior to release to the Fraser River.” The letter also points out that state regulations state, “state water shall be free from substances attributable to human-caused point source or nonpoint source discharge in amounts, concentrations or combinations which are harmful to beneficial uses or toxic to humans, animals, plants or aquatic life.”
The letter goes on to state that the County, East Grand Water Quality Board and the Town of Winter Park conducted sediment and aqueous testing in Oct. 2015 but that such testing occurred too late after the August cleaning operations to, “indicate the presence of more than one volatile organic carbon (toluene) or significant concentrations of suspended or dissolved contaminants in the aqueous samples.” Samples were collected at sites 287 feet upstream from the discharge point and 2,138 feet downstream.
The letter does state the downstream samples, “indicate the presence of several semi-volatile organic carbons (SVOCs) and diesel range organics (DROs) that are either not present in the upstream samples (SVOCs), or are present at significantly higher concentrations downstream compared to upstream (DROs) indicating that their presence is a direct result of the tunnel discharge.” The letter noted the lab that tested the samples indicated the existing sediment matrix downstream from the discharge point was, “complex and likely to have a number of interferences.”
Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.
“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.
But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.
The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.
“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.
The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe.
Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future.
Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, “funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually”. In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually.
Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services.
Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. “Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece,” stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, “work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system.”
Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out.
The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, “there would be no significant environmental impacts.” Officials from Denver Water went on to state, “They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction.”
The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water’s historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, “we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access.”
In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system.
Water utilized by the Denver Water’s diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range.
Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A proposal to divert Colorado River water to Denver recently has won the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the approval of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
But Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project may be just as notable for its general lack of opposition west of the Continental Divide. That’s thanks to a wide-ranging agreement, effective in 2013, in which Denver Water obtained concessions including a promise that numerous Western Slope parties to the agreement wouldn’t oppose the expansion project. In return, Denver Water made a number of commitments to the Western Slope.
Now Western Slope interests are working on a similar agreement with Northern Water and others on what’s called the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would store Colorado River water in a proposed Boulder County reservoir.
These approaches represent a far cry from how the Western Slope used to respond to transmountain diversion proposals.
“This is the new paradigm. It’s not the old school. In the old school it was like … we’ll see you in court,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a party to the 2013 Denver Water deal.
For Denver Water, what’s called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided greater certainty for its customers through means such as resolving longtime disputes regarding West Slope water. For the Western Slope, the deal meant dozens of obligations by Denver Water, such as millions of dollars in monetary payments to various entities, protections of Colorado River flows and water quality, a commitment to further water conservation and reuse efforts by Denver Water customers, and a provision aimed at helping assure maintenance of historic flows in the Colorado River even when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not operating. That hydroelectric plant has a senior right helping control flows in the river.
Another key point in that deal is a promise that Denver Water and its customers won’t try to further develop Colorado River water without agreement from the river district and affected counties.
The cooperative agreement has 18 signatories but more than 40 partners, primarily West Slope governments, water conservation and irrigation districts, and utilities. Among them are the Ute Water Conservancy District and multiple irrigation districts in Mesa County.
Pokrandt said the 2013 deal is a win-win for both sides of the Continental Divide.
“That said, yes, more water would be moving east” if the Gross Reservoir project proceeds, he said.
The project, also sometimes called the Moffat Collection System Project, would nearly triple the capacity of the Boulder County reservoir. Denver Water is targeting water in the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado.
“Right now there are some periods of time when Gross Reservoir is full at its current size and their water rights are in priority but they can’t take any more water,” Pokrandt said.
The project has an estimated cost of $380 million, and Denver Water hopes to obtain the remaining major permits by the end of next year. CDPHE in June certified that the project complied with state water quality standards, and Hickenlooper endorsed it last week.
“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”
That recently adopted plan in some respects took its lead from the Denver Water/Western Slope deal in seeking to address the state’s future water needs in a cooperative rather than confrontational manner statewide.
Pokrandt conceded that not everyone loves the Gross Reservoir proposal…
Trout Unlimited takes a more positive view of the Gross Reservoir project, pointing to its inclusion of a “Learning by Doing” program requiring monitoring of the health of the Fraser River and adjusting operations as needed. The Gross Reservoir proposal envisions drawing water from the Western Slope in wetter years and seasons, but providing the Colorado River watershed with extra water during low flow periods and investing in restoration projects.
“Moreover, Denver Water has entered into partnerships on the Front Range to ensure that the project alleviates chronic low-flow problems in South Boulder Creek. Both sides of the Divide benefit,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release…
Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said in a news release, “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”
Pokrandt said Western Slope water interests face the reality that under the state Constitution the right to appropriate water shall not be denied if the water can be put to beneficial use and a party can obtain the necessary financing and permitting.
“There’s not a legal stance to say no, so that’s why the river district was even formed in 1937, was to negotiate these things, because no is not an answer in the legal arena because of the Colorado Constitution,” he said.
When it comes to water rights, Pokrandt said, “in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist.”
This formal backing completes the state’s environmental reviews for the Moffat project, 13 years in the making, clearing the way for construction — if remaining federal permits are issued. Denver Water and opponents from Western Slope towns and nature groups reached a compromise aimed at enabling more population growth while off-setting environmental harm.
It is a key infrastructure project that will add reliability to public water supplies and protect the environment, Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead.
It “aligns with the key elements of Colorado’s Water Plan,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Denver Water and its partners further our shared vision for a secure and sustainable water future while assuring a net environmental benefit in a new era of cooperation.”
Denver would siphon 10,000 acre-feet a year, on average, more water out of Colorado River headwaters, conveying it eastward under the Continental Divide through a tunnel for more than 20 miles to an expanded Gross Reservoir southwest of Boulder. By raising that reservoir’s existing 340-foot dam to 471 feet, the project would increase today’s 41,811 acre-feet storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet — more than doubling the surface area of the reservoir…
For more than a decade, Denver Water has been seeking permits, including federal approval for construction affecting wetlands and to generate hydro-electricity at the dam.
“During dry years, we won’t be diverting water. It is a relatively small amount of water. … It is a water supply that Colorado is entitled to develop,” Lochhead said in an interview.
The increased storage capacity “allows us to take water in wet times and carry it over through drought periods. It gives us operational flexibility on the Western Slope. … Having this additional storage enables that flexibility.”
Colorado leaders’ formal endorsement follows a recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decision to issue a water quality permit for the project, certifying no water quality standards will be violated. Hickenlooper has directed state officials to work with federal water and energy regulators to expedite issuance of other permits. Denver Water officials said they expect to have all permits by the end of 2017, start construction 2019 and finish by 2024…
…Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups call the project a realistic compromise considering the rapid population growth along Colorado’s Front Range.
“If the state needs to develop more water, they need to do it in a less-damaging, more responsible way — as opposed to going to the pristine headwaters of the South Platte River, which is what the Two Forks project was going to do,” TU attorney Mely Whiting said.
“We’ve put things in place that will make Denver Water be a steward of the river,” Whiting said. The agreement hashed out between Denver Water and conservationists “does not specifically say they have to tweak the flows to help the environment. It does say they have to monitor, for water temperature and macroinvertebrates. And if there’s a problem, they are responsible for figuring out why and they need to do something about it. It does not say exactly what they have to do but they have to fix any problem.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed a project to expand Boulder County’s Gross Reservoir, a move he hopes will improve Colorado’s water capacity for the next several decades.
The endorsement was considered a formality; Hickenlooper wrote to President Barack Obama four years ago, asking for the president’s help in speeding up the process for Gross and other water projects.
Colorado is predicted to face a gap of more than one million acre-feet of water by 2050, according to a 2010 estimate that many believe may be on the low end. One acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover the field at Mile High Stadium from endzone to endzone with one foot of water. That’s 325,851 gallons of water. The average family of four uses about half an acre–foot of water per year.
Hickenlooper couldn’t give his formal okay for the expansion of the reservoir, which is northwest of Eldorado Springs, until the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment had completed its review that certifies the project would comply with state water quality standards.
At 41,811 acre feet, Gross is among the state’s smallest reservoirs. It’s operated by Denver Water, supplied by water coming from the Fraser River on the west side of the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel.
The expansion would allow the reservoir to collect another 18,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply 72,000 more households per year. The estimated cost is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.
The Gross expansion has been in the works for more than 13 years, with its first permits applied for in 2003. If all goes according to plan, the permitting process will be completed in 2017,with construction to begin in 2019 or 2020. The reservoir could be fully filled by 2025, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.
In his letter to Denver Water, Hickenlooper called the Gross project key to serving more than 25 percent of the state’s population. It will “add reliability to our public water supply, and provide environmental benefits to both the East and West Slopes of Colorado,” he said.
Aye, there’s the rub: the Western Slope, whose residents fear that anything that will divert more water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope will cut into their water supplies. They also worry that more diversions of Colorado River water will make it more difficult to satisfy multi-state compacts with southwestern states that rely on water from the Colorado River, of which the Fraser is a tributary.
But Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water, told The Colorado Independent that any further diversions will require buy-in from folks on the Western Slope.
It’s part of an arrangement between Denver Water and 17 Western Slope water providers that has been in development for the past six years, Lochhead said. “We’ve worked extensively with the West Slope to develop the Colorado River cooperative agreement,” which will make the environment and economy of Western Colorado better off, he said.
The agreement addresses impacts of Denver Water projects in Grand, Summit and other counties, all the way to the Colorado-Utah border.
Lochhead hopes the Gross Reservoir project will be a model for cooperation, with benefits for both sides of the Continental Divide.
And the cost? The budget for the agreement starts at $25 million and goes up from there. That first funding goes to Summit and Grand counties for enhancement projects, which includes improved water supply for Winter Park, Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. Lochhead said the locals will figure out exactly how to spend the money, and that Denver Water isn’t dictating what those counties will do with it beyond setting some parameters for protection of watersheds, the area of land that drains to a particular body of water.
Denver Water has also committed to making improvements to the Shoshone Power Plant on the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs, and improvements to wastewater treatment plants all the way to the western state line to enhance area water quality.
“We have an extensive list of commitments to partner with the Western Slope, to do the right thing,” Lochhead said.
The Gross Reservoir expansion is critical to Denver Water’s future needs, as Lochhead sees it, because its improved capacity will allow the water utility to operate its system with more flexibility. That’s most important for Denver Water’s attention to environmental concerns, both on the Western Slope and for South Boulder Creek, which flows out of Gross Reservoir.
“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a statement today. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”
Added Lochhead in a statement Wednesday: “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”
Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed Denver Water’s proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project as a model for achieving a balanced approach to environmental protection and water supply development through an inclusive and collaborative public process.
The endorsement follows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s issuance of a Section 401 Water Quality Certification on June 23, 2016, which ensures compliance with state water quality standards. The certification confirms that Denver Water’s commitment to extensive mitigation and enhancement measures for the project will result in a net environmental benefit.
“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”
The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — also known as the Moffat Collection System Project — will strengthen Denver Water’s system against drought and climate change by nearly tripling the capacity of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County.
“Colorado is a growing and dynamic state,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Denver Water has the critical responsibility to sustain over 25 percent of the state’s population and the majority of our economy for decades to come.”
Since 2003, Denver Water has been involved in federal, state and local permitting processes to evaluate the proposed project and develop ways to not only mitigate identified impacts, but also to enhance the aquatic environment and the economy of Colorado. The 401 certification — one of the major regulatory requirements — recognizes and builds upon other existing Denver Water agreements such as the landmark Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Learning by Doing cooperative effort and the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.
“The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values,” said Lochhead.
Denver Water expects to secure all of the major permits for the project by the end of 2017. The estimated cost of the project is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.
Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterblog.org for videos with voices from a few of the many project supporters including, Gov. Hickenlooper, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.