In an effort to help meet the growing demand for water in the metro area, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended this June to reallocate 20,600 acre-feet of water from flood control to usable storage at Chatfield Reservoir.
The result of an 18-year study, the project would raise the water in the recreation area by 12 feet, covering more of the park with water and requiring reconfiguration of the marina and other amenities without adversely affecting flood control already in place.
As a public comment period nears its Sept. 6 close, the issues of environmental and recreational impact remain at the forefront of the discussion.
Both the Audubon Society and the South Platte Working Group – which includes officials from the City of Littleton and South Suburban Parks and Recreation District – have expressed concerns. Issues include possible negative effects on animal habitat, potential damage to the South Platte River and loss of trees and recreational amenities.
Proponents say all environmental and recreational impacts would be fully mitigated.
“Change is never easy and we are not going to suggest that it is going to look exactly like it does today,” said Steve Welchert of the Chatfield Water for Life Coalition. “But more water is a good thing, it increases habitat for everybody. The bike paths, hiking paths and marina would all be moved, but not eliminated. Included in the cost of the project is $45 million dedicated to the modification of recreational facilities.”
According to Rick McLoud, water resource manager for Centennial Water and Sanitation District, another $70 million of the total $180 million price tag is dedicated to environmental mitigation.
“We’ve tried to carefully document the nature of the impacts and come up with a credible mitigation plan for offsetting those impacts,” McLoud said. “A lot of the trees that are there are there because the reservoir was created in the first place. Some of these trees will be lost, but new ones will go in. It is all part of the evolution for a new Chatfield.”
The reservoir was initially approved for flood control in 1965. Water storage and recreation both became side benefits of its creation.
“The Corps realized having some water in there at the bottom could be beneficial for fish and wildlife, as well as recreation and water supply,” McLoud said. “What we are doing now is seeing if even more water could be in there so there are even more benefits in terms of water supply and the answer from the Corps is yes.”
According to McLoud, the project would take extra water from the South Platte River during high-runoff flow months such as April, May and June and hold it in the reservoir. Sixty percent of that water would then end up being released downstream at points later in the summer during high-drought times.
“In essence we would be doing a re-timing of when water would be flowing downstream,” McLoud said. “We would see stream enhancements and work on the channel configuration to aid the low-flow times, benefitting not just farmers in Weld County and people in the suburbs, but habitat as well.”
It is the benefit and proper mitigation to habitat that are at the core of the reasoning for environmental groups such as the Sierra Club being on board. Having studied the project for the last 10 years, Michael Mueller, Chatfield issues specialist with the club, said they support the plan due to the use of existing infrastructure, the elimination of some future groundwater drilling and the enhanced in-stream flows at various times which will lend to environmental and recreational benefits.
“We not only have the broad support from people who will benefit from this project, but those sort of watch-dog entities that are watching over to see that various elements are protected, so this is quite a unique project in that way,” McLoud said.
To learn more about the project, visit www.Chatfieldwaterforlife.com.