Denver Water sues Boulder County over Gross Reservoir expansion
Denver Water sued Boulder County in federal court on Wednesday, claiming commissioners are taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the Gross Reservoir.
The longstanding project that officials say is vital to Denver’s water supply has been in the works since 2002. Denver Water needs the Board of County Commissioners in Boulder to approve a 1041 permit before it can begin the reservoir expansion, which would offer the county none of the increased water security and all of the construction traffic and ecosystem damage.
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead previously told The Denver Post the utility had applied for the 1041 permit earlier this year and anticipated receiving approval by this fall.
“Unfortunately, Boulder County has used the 1041 permit process to frustrate and prevent Denver Water from proceeding with the Expansion Project,” Denver Water’s attorneys said in their legal complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court and names the county and the three county commissioners.
The county has delayed its review of Denver Water’s 1041 application to the point that it threatens the utility’s ability to comply with federal requirements for the project, the complaint said.
The lawsuit asserts the county is overreaching its authority and jeopardizing the project, which puts the utility’s water supply at risk, Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said in a news release.
Boulder County attorney Ben Pearlman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
A previous lawsuit from a coalition of environmental organizations sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 in U.S. District Court in Denver to block the project. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in late March.
As proposed, the Gross Reservoir expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet. That’s enough for about 800,000 people for an entire year.
The estimated $464 million expansion is needed, utility officials told The Denver Post, because it would safeguard the city’s water supply for about 1.5 million homes against wildfires and droughts.
But since its early years, the proposal has generated controversy and opposition.
Those who live near the reservoir complain that the expected five years of construction would bring with it lights, noise and pollution. Environmental advocates complain of the tens of thousands of trees that would have to be cut down for the work, and noted that even if the utility successfully expands the reservoir that doesn’t mean rain and snow will be available to fill it.
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