Gross Dam took too long

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

As we take a mo­ment to cel­e­brate a key mile­stone in Den­ver Wa­ter’s plan to ex­pand Gross Dam, let’s also take a mo­ment to re­flect.

It took a stag­ger­ing 14 years of red tape, en­vi­ron­men­tal study and pub­lic de­bate for the project to get the crit­i­cal ap­proval of the Army Corps of En­gi­neers last week. And yet, while now very close, the project isn’t a done deal.

Den­ver Wa­ter has been wise to pur­sue in­creas­ing the ca­pac­ity of their wa­ter de­liv­ery sys­tem to the north; Gross Reser­voir would hold an ad­di­tional 77,000 acre-feet of wa­ter once the dam ex­pan­sion is com­plete. That’s enough ex­tra wa­ter to serve 54,000 sin­gle-fam­ily res­i­den­tial homes a year.

Much of that ad­di­tional wa­ter will come from the other side of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, sent through ex­ist­ing pipes in Mof­fat Tun­nel dur­ing wet years to pre­pare the Front Range for times of drought.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Den­ver Wa­ter re­mains in the process of get­ting its per­mit ap­proved by the Fed­eral En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion to mod­ify the dam’s small hy­dropower el­e­ment so it can pro­duce an es­ti­mated 8.1 megawatts of en­ergy. That’ll be an ad­di­tional megawatt of re­new­able en­ergy com­ing from an ex­ist­ing tur­bine op­er­a­tion. One megawatt is enough to power 750 homes.

Both of those ap­provals have hinged on the En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Study process, which we fully sup­port as a way to en­sure projects like these don’t do more harm than good in the ef­fort to meet fu­ture wa­ter needs with­out harm­ing our en­vi­ron­ment or leav­ing other cities and states high and dry.

But cer­tainly there is a way the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can stream­line these pro­cesses so they don’t stretch on for decades.

The Na­tional Hy­dropower As­so­ci­a­tion says that the av­er­age per­mit­ting time through FERC is eight years. The as­soci- ation’s goal is to in­crease the ex­ist­ing hy­dropower ca­pac­ity in the United States from 101 gi­gawatts to 151 gi­gawatts by 2050. In­no­va­tion in tur­bines and pumped storage will be part of that, but the na­tion needs a stream­lined per­mit­ting process that main­tains the ex­ist­ing re­quire­ments for en­vi­ron­men­tal study and im­pact, while mak­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process much more ex­pe­di­ent.

The same goes for wa­ter storage projects that get mired in bu­reau­cracy and in­tense non-ne­go­tiable op­po­si­tion.

Long have we sup­ported the Gross Dam ex­pan­sion project and we urge the project’s main op­po­si­tion group — Save the Colorado River — to drop their threat of fil­ing a law­suit to stop the per­mit. We agree that in an ideal world ad­di­tional wa­ter storage wouldn’t be needed and the Front Range could meet de­mand through in­creased con­ser­va­tion. But we also trust the facts that Den­ver Wa­ter’s CEO Jim Lochhead presents that in­di­cate even with a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in per-house­hold use, the boom­ing pop­u­la­tion will in­crease de­mand.

Ac­cord­ing to Colorado’s Wa­ter Plan, the mu­nic­i­pal and in­dus­trial gap be­tween de­mand and sup­ply could be as much as 560,000 acre feet by 2050. The plan’s goal is to re­duce that pro­jected gap to zero by 2030.

Hy­dropower is the most con­sis­tent re­new­able en­ergy and can be used to pro­vide a baseload ca­pac­ity along­side less re­li­able en­ergy sources like wind and so­lar. It makes sense to pur­sue max­ing out our dams’ ca­pac­ity.

As Colorado works to ful­fill the mis­sion of the Wa­ter Plan and Gov. John Hick­en­looper’s re­new­able en­ergy plan to re­duce heat-trap­ping emis­sions, it makes sense for Congress to con­sider ways for the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment process to re­main just as thor­ough and pro­tec­tive, but also more ef­fi­cient and faster.

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