Chatfield expansion wins final approval
Audubon Society remains opposed to loss of habitat
The Army Corps of Engineers has given final approval to a controversial expansion of Chatfield Reservoir to help meet a growing need for water along the Front Range.
The chosen option for expanding Chatfield, labeled “Alternative 3,” will raise the water levels by a maximum of 12 feet and increase the maximum storage by 20,600 acre-feet. Some 587 acres of Chatfield State Park, Colorado’s most popular, will be flooded in peak storage years to provide more water for urban and agricultural users.
The corps estimates in a news release that the expansion of Chatfield will yield about 8,539 acre-feet of water per year. The project is estimated to cost $183 million, which will come from the water users involved with the project.
“Chatfield is one of the state’s premier parks, so in the development (of a plan) the recreational uses were considered,” said Eileen Williamson, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers. “The park recreation uses will continue. It may be different. However, that being said, there’s some speculation that park users will be able to experience the same quality, or improved quality, of recreation that is available now.”
A water use agreement between the corps and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is representing the dozen or so water users involved, must be signed before design and implementation of the project can begin. The goal is to have that agreement in place by Sept. 30, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, Williamson said.
The corps has estimated that the demand for water in the region will grow to 365,601 acre-feet a year in 2050, about 116,000 acre-feet more than in 2010.
“It’s a key project that helps us with the reliability of our water supply. It’s extremely important to us, and that’s why we’ve been working on this for many years,” said Rick McCloud, water resource manager for the Centennial Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve been very careful to address all the impacts and develop mitigation plans to responsibly address them to lessen or to completely eliminate those impacts. It will be a very open process. People will know about the actions we’ll be taking.”
The expansion of Chatfield will flood habitat for several species of wildlife, including the threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, along with recreational facilities like the swim beach and the dock. Much of the cost associated with the expansion involves mitigating the loss of habitat and recreational facilities.
While several environmental groups that initially were against the expansion have dropped their opposition, the Audubon Society of Greater Denver remains opposed to the project.
Polly Reetz, a member of the Audubon Society, said the project’s impacts will be too extreme for what could be an unreliable source of water. Since the water users in the project have only junior rights, in dry years there won’t be much return on the cost of the expansion, Reetz said.
While mitigation efforts will secure, through purchase or easements, habitats for affected wildlife, Reetz said that land already exists and can’t be considered new habitat. She also pointed out that land secured through an easement typically remains closed to public uses.
“You can’t mitigate the loss of 100-year-old forests. Some of those trees predate the dam, and you can’t just create that somewhere else,” Reetz said. “They’re losing land, and we’re not getting accessible land in return. It’s another unmitigate-able thing. They’re not going to be able to replace accessible land.”