Gross Dam to be tallest in Colorado

Project will cost $380M, tripling wa­ter stor­age after years-long de­bate.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

The Army Corps of En­gi­neers has green­lighted a $380 million Den­ver Wa­ter project to raise the height of the Gross Dam, tripling its wa­ter stor­age and near­ing the end of a path 14 years in the mak­ing.

Den­ver Wa­ter CEO Jim Lochhead said the project, which was ap­proved late Fri­day, was im­por­tant to add bal­ance and re­siliency to the agency’s sys­tem. The dam expansion still needs ap­proval from the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion to in­crease its hy­dropower ca­pac­ity.

“It’s been a long haul,” Den­ver Wa­ter Board pres­i­dent Paula Herz­mark said of Fri­day’s de­ci­sion. “We are just ec­static, just elated that this per­mit is now in place and we can be­gin. To have the in­sur­ance that we’re go­ing to have this ad­di­tional source of sup­ply as our com­mu­nity grows.”

By rais­ing the dam wall to 471 feet from 340 feet, Den­ver Wa­ter will be able to store nearly 119,000 acre-feet of wa­ter, up from 42,000 acre-feet. The ex­tra wa­ter sent into the sys­tem will be able to serve 54,000 sin­gle-fam­ily res­i­den­tial homes a year. The ad­di­tional height will also make Gross Dam, which is 5 miles south­west of Boul­der, the tallest dam in Colorado.

Colorado Trout Un­lim­ited was happy with the news. The group has been work­ing with Den­ver Wa­ter to make the project en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, Trout Un­lim­ited coun­sel Mely Whit­ing said.

The project in­cludes an en­vi­ron­men­tal pool to di­vert wa­ter to streams that need it. It also led to the Learn­ing By Do­ing Co­op­er­a­tive Ef­fort that brings to­gether groups to mon­i­tor stream con­di­tions and quickly take ac­tion when needed. Den­ver Wa­ter is also giv­ing about $25 million to Grand County and other coun­ties for en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vance­ments.

But as is com­mon with

dams, not every­one is happy with hold­ing more wa­ter be­hind walls.

“We be­lieve the Army Corps has vi­o­lated the law,” said Gary Wock­ner, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist with Save the Colorado who is lead­ing a coali­tion fight­ing the project. “Den­ver Wa­ter doesn’t need the wa­ter, the Colorado River is al­ready se­verely drained and de­pleted, and the peo­ple of Boul­der County don’t want the project. The courts need to take a hard look at this de­ci­sion.”

In a state­ment re­leased Satur­day morn­ing, Wock­ner pointed to a 20 per­cent drop in wa­ter use since 2002 de­spite a 10 per­cent cus­tomer in­crease as ev­i­dence that the agency doesn’t need more stored wa­ter. He added that con­struc­tion for the dam will have a neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal impact on the sur­round­ing area.

Lochhead coun­tered that the ex­tra wa­ter will be needed as cur­rent con­ser­va­tion ef­forts won’t be enough to cover the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and ef­fects of cli­mate change. He added that Den­ver Wa­ter has been work­ing with en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and lo­cal and fed­eral gov­ern­ments since the start to not just mit­i­gate dam­age, but rather im­prove rivers.

Lochhead ac­knowl­edged that the five years of con­struc­tion will be hefty, es­pe­cially the three years of in­ten­sive con­crete plac­ing. He said Den­ver Wa­ter worked with the lo­cal res­i­dents to mit­i­gate im­pacts and said an on-site quarry will be built to re­duce truck trips.

“With a warm­ing cli­mate and with growth and other is­sues in our sys­tem, we need to make sure that our sys­tem is re­silient in the long term,” he said.

The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pro­vided by Den­ver Wa­ter

The Gross Reser­voir Expansion Project will add nearly 77,000 acre-feet of wa­ter.

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