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Environment: Feds won’t extend public comment period on plan to divert more water from Colorado River

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Colorado water wars may heat up as feds refuse to extend comment period Denver Water’s plan to gulp yet more water from the Colorado River. bberwyn photo.

Massive environmental study hard to digest in just 45 days

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — If you were hoping to comment on the entire massive environmental study for Denver Water’s proposal to divert yet more water from the Colorado River to the Front Range, it’s time for some some speed reading.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week that there will be no extension of the formal comment period despite a slew of requests for more time. And it’s not just environmental groups that asked for an extension. Boulder County, where there will be major impacts from the expansion of Gross Reservoir, requested more time to comb through thousands of pages of technical reports and data, but to no avail.

Federal officials frequently do extend the formal comment periods for big projects analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act, a law that provides the framework for evaluating and disclosing the impacts of federal government actions.

The elegant law calls for thoughtful and in-depth analysis and emphasizes the role of public review and comment — but that doesn’t fit into the grandiose water schemes eyed by the Colorado water establishment, which wants to ramrod the project through as fast as possible.

Two years ago, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote to President Obama, asking the federal government to speed up the approval process for the project, which would take another big gulp of water from the already strained Fraser River in Grand County, as well up diversions from the Blue River Basin in Summit County.

And conservation groups are also concerned about a recent bill that could cut short environmental reviews for other major water projects. The changes are described in this American Rivers blog post:

“River conservationists across the nation will face new challenges as they fight to protect rivers from harmful water projects. Passage of HR 3080 will result in shorter public comment periods, cursory reviews of project impacts, and a reduced time period for filing legal challenges.The public will have to engage early and often to make sure water projects don’t bring undue harm to river health, clean water, and wildlife.”

This was the terse email message from the Corps rejecting numerous requests for extended comment:

Hello,

The Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander has decided not to grant a time extension on the comment period for the Moffat Project Final Environmental Impact Statement.  The comment period will still end on Monday, June 9, 2014.

And the reaction from Save the Colorado campaign coordinator Gary Wockner:

“We are extremely concerned that the Corps has refused to give the public adequate time and opportunity to comment on the Moffat FEIS,” said Gary Wockner, coordinator for the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “The FEIS contains thousands of pages of technical documents, modeling, and policy implications that will impact the future of the Colorado River.  This refusal violates the spirit of the law — the National Environmental Policy Act — which is to give voice to the people of America about decisions that would have severe negative impacts to our environment.”

 

“River conservationists across the nation will face new challenges as they fight to protect rivers from harmful water projects. Passage of HR 3080 will result in shorter public comment periods, cursory reviews of project impacts, and a reduced time period for filing legal challenges. The public will have to engage early and often to make sure water projects don’t bring undue harm to river health, clean water, and wildlife,” said Irvin. – See more at: http://www.americanrivers.org/newsroom/press-releases/water-resources-bill-challenges-river-protection/#sthash.19hWZRbf.dpuf

 

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