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License Amendment for Gross Reservoir Expansion is Recommended for Approval by Feds

February 9, 2019
Staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday issued a recommendation that commissioners approve a hydropower license amendment which is needed in order for Denver Water to proceed with its hoped-for expansion project at Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County.

The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday recommended approval of a hydropower licensing amendment that Denver Water needs in order to go forward with its planned expansion of Gross Reservoir, which would be the largest construction project in Boulder County history.

The 202-page report issued by FERC’s Office of Energy Projects comprised its final supplemental environmental assessment on the massive project, which was preceded by another environmental assessment it issued a year ago.

“In this final supplemental EA, staff finds that a Commission approval of Denver Water’s amendment application would not cause effects to resources in the project area to exceed those identified” in an environmental impact statement completed in April 2014 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the report stated.

It added that approval of the license amendment “would, in fact, reduce the level of some effects through implementation of a series of environmental protection and mitigation plans included in Denver Water’s application, to include specific additional measures” that are identified in the supplemental environmental assessment.

Areas of potential effects of the project are broad-ranging. They relate to issues ranging from transportation and traffic, to quarrying, removal of wildlife habitat, recreational resources, and air and water quality.

Denver Water, serving about 1.4 million customers in the Denver area — but none in Boulder County — had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet. That would expand its capacity by 77,000 acre feet.

In issuing the recommendation for approval on Friday, the federal commission’s staff stated the final environmental impact statement produced nearly five years ago had identified “adverse effects of Denver Water’s proposed construction activities, including effects associated with quarrying of rock to supply material for increasing the height of Gross Dam,” and that those would occur primarily during the four-year period of construction and refill.

However, it added, Denver Water’s revised plans, calling for use of an onsite quarry at Osprey Point on the reservoir’s south side “would result in reduction of those unavoidable adverse effects, although some effects would be more localized with the use of the new quarry location.”

Also, it noted that the final environmental impact statement had identified “unavoidable loss of wildlife habitat,” and went on to further quantify those effects.

For example, “Before filling the reservoir, Denver Water would remove about 508 acres of vegetation from the proposed quarry site, and the new inundation area.”

There would be “some injury and/or mortality” to wildlife in the area, and result in the removal of about 465 acres of elk winter range and migration corridor and 269 acres of winter concentration area.

Friday’s final environmental assessment could be an indication that the federal commission itself could be poised to make a licensing amendment decision soon.

There are other hurdles to the project that remain. A coalition of environmental groups led by Save the Colorado on Dec. 19 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the July 2017 granting of a project permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A spokesman for one of the plaintiffs in that case issued a statement Friday.

“It is a sad day when our Federal regulators abandon their duty to all citizens in favor of the few investors and power-seeking bureaucrats who would benefit from this project,” the statement by The Environmental Group’s past president Michael Thomason said, in part.

“But our coalition of citizens opposing this project expected this move by FERC. We were prepared for it and this increases our determination to win in court.”

Also, a battle is brewing between Denver Water and Boulder County over whether the Gross Reservoir expansion is subject to the county’s “1041” review process before construction can begin.

That provision, known by the bill number by which it was enacted by the state Legislature in 1974, allows local governments to identify, designate and regulate areas and activities of state interest through a local permitting process.

Denver Water contends the Gross Reservoir expansion is exempt from those requirements. Boulder County claims that it is not, and an appeal by Denver Water is to be heard by Boulder County commissioners on March 14.

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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