Gross Dam took too long
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.