Environmental Groups Seek to Halt Expansion of Colorado Dam

DENVER (CN) – Six environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke for failing to consider the consequences of building the state’s largest dam.

The Moffat Collection System Project aims to increase the height of Boulder’s existing Gross Dam by 141 feet, increasing firm water storage nearby Denver by 77,000 acre-feet. The Denver Water utility first proposed the project in 2003.

According to the lawsuit, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the project without first assessing Denver’s need for a firm water supply and without considering other less damaging alternatives.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance in a statement.

The lawsuit points out that increased firm water storage comes at the expense of landscapes on both the eastern and western slope.

Eastern slope construction “would be unprecedented in Boulder County,” requiring the clearing of more than 500,000 trees and the extraction of 1.6 million tons of rock, the complaint states.

On the western slope, the Colorado River will be deprived of 10,284 acre-feet annually, “exacerbating the impacts of climate change in the Colorado River basin; and killing many federally protected green lineage cutthroat trout that use streams in the Colorado River basin as habitat,” according to the lawsuit.

WildEarth Guardians additionally stressed, “this litigation comes at a time when the basin states are working to put together a Drought Contingency Plan to address falling levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell due to extensive drought and climate change.”

The lawsuit predicts the Moffat project will make it harder for Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to meet water delivery requirements to Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The Colorado River is in crisis,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians. “The most obvious solution to sustain our namesake river is to start living within our means, not doubling down on what got us here in the first place—more reckless dams and diversions.”

Plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the U.S. government violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clear Water Act and the Endangered Species Act and to stop them from further development until the needs of the laws have been met.

The environmental groups are represented by William Eubanks, from the Fort Collins firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

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