A public hearing on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement in Boulder attracted a variety of voices, but almost all of them questioned the document’s thoroughness in evaluating environmental impacts of the project.
“There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging,” said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. “Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme.”
Denver currently diverts a large amount of water from the Fraser River through the Moffat Collection Tunnel. The current project proposal seeks to triple the capacity of the Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. Denver water currently divers 60 percent of the upper Fraser River’s flows, and the project would see even more water drawn from the river.
Proponents say the new expansion will improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system and will stymie looming water shortages. But critics say the project’s impacts haven’t been accurately assessed and the project could cause serious harm to the Colorado and Fraser rivers.
The July 16 meeting was to gather public comment to send to the Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve the final project. Though there was a June 9 cutoff for the comment period, commissioners said the Corps would still accept “substantive public comment.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners’ staff voiced concerns about the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project.
“There wasn’t a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project,” said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners’ staff deputy. “Specifically, there wasn’t any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative.”
Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure.
Though most of the discussion focused on the project’s impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope.
“We would want to draw the Corps’ attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County,” Jones said.
More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions.
“The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they’ve brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps,” said Little.
The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.