Securing the Moffat Supply System

UNIVERSITY OF DENVER WATER LAW REVIEW ANNUAL SYMPOSIUM 2013: ADDRESSING SUPPLY & DEMAND IMBALANCES IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

Denver, Colorado       April 12, 2012

Securing the Moffat Supply System: Weighing the Costs and Benefits of the Gross Reservoir Expansion, and Project Alternatives

Becky Mitchell of the Colorado Water Conservation Board moderated a panel discussion on Securing the Moffat Supply System: Weighing the Costs and Benefits of the Gross Reservoir Expansion, and Project Alternatives.  Panelists shared Western Slope and Front Range perspectives on Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project’s Expansion of the Gross Reservoir.  The panel consisted of Charles Howe a Professor Emeritus in Economics at the University of Colorado; Barbara Green of Sullivan, Green, and Seavy, LLC; Amelia Whiting of Trout Unlimited; and Travis Bray of Denver Water.

The existing Moffat supply system diverts water from the Fraser River through the Moffat Tunnel to South Boulder Creek.  South Boulder Creek flows into the Gross Reservoir.  The Gross Reservoir dam releases water into the South Boulder Creek.  The South Boulder Diversion Canal diverts water from the South Boulder Creek to the Ralston Reservoir.  The Ralston Reservoir provides water to Denver Water’s Moffat Treatment Plant.  Denver Water estimates an 18,000 acre-feet shortage of water in the coming decades.  To meet this demand, Denver Water proposed expanding the Gross Reservoir to hold an additional 76,000 acre-feet of water.  This project would increase the dam’s height from 340 feet to 465 feet.  The Moffat System would not divert the additional water in dry years.

Charles Howe a Professor Emeritus in Economics at the University of Colorado presented The Economics of High Volume Interbasin Water Transfers.  Professor Howe presented the history of large interbasin transfers in Colorado.  He explained secondary economic and social impacts of interbasin transfers are important and large transfers out of depressed regions can result in regional economic and social loses.  He emphasized large transfers out of depressed regions require compensation and, in light of these facts, legislation should not prohibit interbasin transfers.

Barbara Green of Sullivan, Green, and Seavy, LLC presented Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Gross Reservoir Expansion – Western Slope Non-Opposition to Gross Reservoir Expansion.  Barbara Green began by providing background information on the historical tensions between the water rights interests on the Western Slope and the Front Range.  She then outlined the evolution of Article IV Paragraph J of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.  Article IV Paragraph J prevents West Slope Signatories, other than Grand County, from objecting to any permits for the Moffat Collection System Project.  Grand County is a NEPA consultant and exempt from Article IV Paragraph J.  Finally, Green ended her presentation describing how this new agreement is a historic and positive step for relations between water rights interests on the Western Slope and the Front Range.

Amelia Whiting of Trout Unlimited presented Environmental Concerns: Why Trout Unlimited Supports the Windy Gap Firming Project and Not the Gross Reservoir Expansion.  Trout Unlimited is a grass-roots organization dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.  Whiting began by describing the Windy Gap Firming and Moffat Collection System Projects.  Ms. Whiting ended by describing Trout Unlimited’s objections to the Moffat Collection System Project.  Trout Unlimited objects to the Gross Reservoir Expansion because Denver Water will not agree to reduce diversions if water temperatures are too high, to guarantee flows that cleanse the river of sediment, nor to develop a program of monitoring the rivers and adapting to developing situations.

Travis Bray of Denver Water presented Securing the Northern Moffat System: Why Denver Water Needs to Increase its Moffat Supply System.  Bray began by discussing Denver Water’s three-prong approach to municipal water supply: Conservation, Recycle, and Supply.  Next, Mr. Bray outlined the supply problems of the next 20 years including the reliabilities and vulnerabilities of the north and south Denver supply systems.  Bray then gave the history of the Moffat project from 1954, the Gross Reservoir’s completion date, to the present. Finally, Mr. Bray listed the following issues associated with the Moffat Collection System Project still outstanding: new studies, conflict resolutions, and Boulder county voting issues.  In a question after the presentation, Mr. Bray responded to Denver Water’s reluctance to agree to Trout Unlimited’s objections.  Mr. Bray stated all of the objections are existing problems and the Gross Reservoir Expansion would not be responsible for these problems.