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Thirsty Front Range alarms Summit County officials

Julie Sutor
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Summit Daily file The drought of 2002 left Dillon Reservoir with parched shorelines. Summit County officials worry that more water headed for Front Range cities could result in similar scenes in the future.
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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Air pollution, compromised river ecosystems, waning drinking water supplies, un-boatable rivers and dry marinas were among the chorus of concerns raised by public officials in regard to a Denver Water proposal to bring more West Slope water to Front Range cities.

The Army Corps of Engineers held a hearing Thursday night on Denver Water’s proposal to divert more Colorado River Basin water through the Moffat Tunnel in Grand County and then store it in an expanded Gross Reservoir, just southwest of Boulder.

Denver Water proposed the project in response to an anticipated water supply shortage of 18,000 acre-feet per year beginning in 2016 and 34,000 acre-feet per year by 2030. The Moffat Project would expand Gross Reservoir by as much as 72,000 acre-feet.

Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said the Army Corps analysis of the project and its various alternatives contains “serious flaws.”

“A number of reasonable and obvious alternatives that do not have impacts on the Blue River and the West Slope were not considered,” Stiegelmeier said. “Conservation, re-use and other storage can meet the need for 18,000 acre-feet.”

Denver Water says it is implementing an “aggressive conservation plan” and constructing a recycled-water treatment plant and distribution system. But even with those measures in place, the agency says it will still need to increase its water supply.

The additional water in the Moffat Project would be come from the Fraser River and Williams Fork River basins in Grand County, as well as water from the South Boulder Creek basin. Streamflow in the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers and the South Boulder Creek would be decreased by the Moffat Project only during wet and average years during the runoff months, primarily May, June and July.

The project would impact water bodies in Summit County, including Dillon Reservoir and the Blue River. Summit County Board of County Commissioners expressed concern over a decreased number of days that flows would be optimal for boating and impacts to fish and wildlife.

“There is no discussion of tourism, or businesses that rely on tourism and no socioeconomic impact implications,” Frisco town manager Michael Penny said about the Army Corps analyses.

Penny also faulted the agency for not considering the project’s impacts as they relate to the pine beetle epidemic, climate change, waste-water treatment plants and air quality.

“With reservoir levels being drawn down during summer months, the (analyses) should have better evaluated air quality implications,” Penny said. “As we saw in 2002, a newly exposed shoreline produces a considerable amount of dust. This dust not only has air-quality implications, but also threatens water-quality in Dillon Reservoir.”

Grand County manager Lurline Underbrink Curran said her organization shares Summit County’s concerns, and she worried about long-term unforeseen impacts to the West Slope.

“Grand County and Summit County are the most impacted areas of the state by transmountain diversions,” Underbrink Curran said. “What if the assumptions made are not correct, and the resource crashes? What is to be done then? The Colorado River is the lifeline of Colorado and the states below us.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is accepting comments on the Moffat Project until March 1. Those interested in submitting comments may do so by sending an e-mail to moffat.eis@usace.army.mil. More information about the Moffat Project can be found at http://bit.ly/4TItDv.

jsutor@summitdaily.com


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