Colo. Wildlife Commission to review reservoir plans

DENVER – Denver Water says it came perilously close to running out of water in its collection system north of Denver during the 2002 drought.

“It scared us,” said Dave Little, Denver Water’s director of planning.

Around that time, utility officials decided to seek to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County to hold more water from the Fraser River, Williams Fork River and South Boulder Creek basins to prepare for another drought, boost water supplies to meet future demand.

Meanwhile the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has proposed a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir southwest of Loveland to store Colorado River water it says it’s entitled to.

Both water providers have developed plans to ease effects of their projects on rivers and wildlife, but landowners in the basins are still worried about the health of depleted rivers.

“You can’t just keep taking water out of this river system without serious, potentially irreversible effects on this river,” said Boulder resident Michael Repucci, a former general counsel for the Winter Park ski area who owns land along the Fraser River.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission on Thursday will consider whether the mitigation plans are good enough.

Demographers expect Colorado’s population to double to about 10 million by 2050. Water planners warn that even if all projects are completed, the state still will need between 190,000 and 630,000 more acre-feet of water to meet that demand. An acre-foot can serve two to three households for a year.

Ultimately, federal officials will decide on issuing permits. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are reviewing Denver Water’s proposal. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is reviewing Northern’s project.

Little, of Denver Water, said expanding Gross Reservoir will help the utility meet a shortfall in water supplies projected by 2030.

It also should make the utility less vulnerable to drought and other threats, he said. About 80 percent of Denver Water’s supply comes through the Strontia Springs Reservoir on the south end of its system. Its operations were threatened in 2002 by the Hayman Fire that burned about 215 square miles.

Denver Water has set aside $7 million for mitigation and environmental enhancements for the Gross Reservoir project, Little said. The Northern Colorado district – which also plans two more reservoirs – also has developed plans to try to protect river health.