Everyone seems to agree the South Platte River needs more water. The question is how to get it there.
“Fish really do need water to survive,” noted Amy Conklin of the Barr-Milton Watershed Association, a local water expert and former Littleton city councilor.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft of the Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement on June 8. In an effort to help meet the growing demand for water in the metro area, the study recommends reallocating 20,600 acre-feet of water from flood control to usable storage. This would raise the water in the recreation area by 12 feet, flooding some of the park and requiring reconfiguration of the marina and other amenities.
“The Chatfield Reallocation project has been intensively worked on for about 20 years,” said Conklin. “It is one of the few water projects in Colorado to gain support from agricultural, municipal, environmental and recreational stakeholders. While the impacts to recreation in Chatfield State Park will be significant, they can be mitigated. The impacts to the environment will likely be a net positive because of the increase in in-stream flows.”
Conklin notes the state will need the equivalent of four more Lake Dillons to meet its water needs by 2050.
“Chatfield Dam is already there, and the lake has the storage capacity,” she said. “It is a water project that makes good sense.”
The Corps of Engineers says the proposal will regulate the flow of water from the reservoir into the river. Skot Latona, manager of South Platte Park, said such efforts could benefit the river habitat, depending on when water is stored and how it’s released.
“There’s potential it could be good,” he said. “In general, more water in late fall and winter would be helpful for us.”
Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman has been very involved in issues affecting the river corridor, and she says a number of factors have put it at risk – including changes in water law, inadequate storage and low snowpack run-off.
“Anyone who has spent any time down by the South Platte River this year can easily see how stressed the fragile plant, bird, fish and animal environment is along the river,” she said. “In the 20 years I have been walking the river, I have never seen it so low. It sadly is just a trickle of a river.”
The Corps says the recommended proposal would produce 8,539 acre-feet of water per year at less cost than alternatives, while at the same time balancing environmental and recreational needs. It would also preserve habitat for the federally protected Preble’s jumping mouse.
“The reallocation of flood storage to water-supply storage would primarily result in greater and more frequent reservoir pool fluctuations at Chatfield Reservoir, but the impact on downstream flood frequency is negligible,” the Corps said in a press release.
Beckman and Latona both urge the public to review the draft proposal and offer opinions on its merits.
“With the Chatfield EIS process there has been years of tremendous outreach with water providers and stakeholders, but I think the question still needs to be repeated,” said Beckman. “Will the federal engineers’ recommended plan provide additional water storage at Chatfield and help increase and stabilize the flow of the South Platte River as it flows through our communities? … The South Platte Park and river are essential to the quality of life that we enjoy in our communities. If this plan does not have solid commitments to increase or stabilize the water flow, the community should express serious concerns.”
The draft is available at http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/html/pd-p/Plan_Formulation/GI/GI_Chatfield.html or at several libraries, including Highlands Ranch and Columbine. For more information, call 402-995-2717 or email email@example.com.
Public meetings on the Chatfield reallocation project
Monday, June 25, 5:30-8:30 p.m., The Wildlife Experience, 10035 S. Peoria St., Parker. 720-488-3300
Tuesday, June 26, 5:30-8:30 p.m., Dakota Ridge High School, 13399 W. Coal Mine Ave., Littleton. 303-982-1970.