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Audubon Society files appeal of Chatfield expansion

Environmental group says rising water levels would harm ecosystem


An environmentalist group will appeal a judge’s decision that plans to expand Chatfield Reservoir could go forward, despite the group’s assertion that the Army Corps of Engineers’ project to raise the waterline by up to 12 feet will do unnecessary damage to the ecosystem surrounding the lake.

The Audubon Society of Greater Denver filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2014, claiming that the Corps’ plans will drown vital wetlands and forests, including the habitat of the threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the State of Colorado ruled in favor of the Corps in December, saying that Audubon hadn’t provided sufficient evidence that the plans violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Audubon is appealing the ruling, and seeking an injunction to halt construction that started shortly after.

“We were disappointed, but not surprised, by the district court’s ruling on our case and have filed our appeal in hopes of saving Chatfield State Park from this wrong-headed project,” said Polly Reetz, Audubon’s conservation chair, in a statement announcing the appeal.

The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company, which is overseeing the project, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

The $130 million project will allow water storage for eight municipal water providers and agricultural organizations across the metro area and northeastern Colorado. Construction is expected to take two years to complete. The project will necessitate removing trees and moving recreational facilities around the lakeshore.

Audubon’s lawsuit was based in large part on the concept that the initial Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, prepared by the Corps failed to adequately examine possible alternatives to the plan, which would add more than 20,000 acre-feet of capacity to the reservoir.

“Denver Audubon asserts that the Corps did not seriously consider a number of sound, reasonable alternatives that would do less environmental damage,” Audubon said in a press release, “including increased water conservation, use of space in Rueter-Hess reservoir, storing water in underground aquifers, and storage in repurposed gravel pits like the South Platte Reservoir near Chatfield.”

Judge Philip Brimmer wrote in his ruling that Audubon’s assertions were inadequate to stop the project because the project’s stated goal is to increase water storage capacity to serve the metro area’s growing population, not to reduce the amount of water used. Brimmer also said that Rueter-Hess Reservoir, near Parker, was recently expanded itself and shows no indication of being capable of further expansion. Brimmer’s ruling does not appear to make mention of the idea of storing water in underground aquifers, but it calls the idea of utilizing nearby gravel pits to meet water storage needs impractical given the relative cost and logistical difficulty.

Audubon’s appeal, filed in court on Jan. 8, argues that the court erred in its findings on alleged Clean Water Act violations related to the disposal of soil slated to be dredged from areas in which recreation facilities will be relocated around the reservoir.

The appeal also argues that Audubon Society, which hosts a variety of nature programs around the lake, will be irreparably harmed by the rise in water levels, as removal of vegetation will make their activities difficult.

“The loss of habitat that will occur should the underbrush and vegetation be removed cannot be adequately replaced,” reads Audubon’s appeal in part. “As a result, Denver Audubon members will no longer be able to bird or peacefully enjoy the serenity of the Park, and the organization will no longer be able to fulfill its mission ‘to connect people with nature through conservation, education, and research.’”


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