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Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

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More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service. bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion.

The Denver Water plan would divert more water from the already hammered Fraser River Basin in Grand County and divert it through the Moffat Tunnel into Gross Reservoir to help balance water supplies in the northern and southern parts of the utility’s service area and at least partly address a significant supply shortage that’s expected get worse in the next couple of decades.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must decide whether to issue a permit for the project after recently completing a massive environmental impact study. The Forest Service letter came as a public comment on that study, along with similar letters from other jurisdictions expressing similar concerns.

Along with other entities, the Forest Service also expressed concern about the short time frame for commenting on the environmental impact study.

“The majority of the impacts from the proposed project would occur on National Forest System (NFS) land within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Pike National Forest and the White River National Forest,” the Forest Service wrote.

The Forest Service comment letter is the best way to get a feel for how widespread and pervasive the impacts from the proposed diversions would be without adequate mitigation. Some streams that already on the verge of ecological collapse would probably go under if the current version of the plan is implemented, the agency wrote.

For example, the Corps’s final study doesn’t include nearly enough information of fish getting caught at diversion points or other mechanical facilities along the streams. The Forest Service also took issue with the Corps’ conclusion that the project would cause only minor impacts to aquatic habitat.

Detailed Forest Service comments on stream hydrology also suggest that the Corps may have downplayed impacts of de-watering streams completely — especially the effects on groundwater hydrology.

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