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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

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Water Education Colorado

Moffat Collection System Expansion


By Dan MacArthur

Denver Water considers its proposed Moffat Collection System Project important to bring better balance and reliability to its water supply system.

Denver Water currently provides water to more than 1.2 million customers using three major water collection systems—the Moffat, South Platte and Roberts Tunnel systems—originating high in the mountains west of the metro area.

Providing only about 20 percent of Denver’s total water supply, the Moffat Collection System is located in the Williams Fork and Fraser river basins on the Western Slope. A series of tunnels channel that water under the Continental Divide to be stored in Gross Reservoir above Boulder and the smaller Ralston Reservoir above Arvada, where it awaits transfer to Denver’s water treatment facilities.

The proposed expansion of the existing Moffat Collection System would provide 18,000 acre-feet of dependable annual water supply to the Moffat Treatment Plant and other customers. The current collection system, Denver Water contends, is not sufficiently reliable or flexible to meet existing or future demands.

With the current system, in a single severe dry year the Moffat Treatment Plant and several other water customers can run out of water. During the 2002 drought, for example, lack of water at times forced the Moffat Treatment Plant to be shut down and all water treatment shifted to the Foothills and Marston plants. In addition, to maintain water in the Moffat System, Denver Water was forced to curtail minimum bypass flows (flows which keep water in the stream to help mitigate the impact of diversions) in the Fraser River Basin.

As part of the National Environmental Policy Act process and according to a 2003 scoping report developed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, numerous alternative project scenarios have been identified. Some examples of potential alternatives include: enlarging Gross Reservoir on South Boulder Creek, a new reservoir near Highway 93 and Coal Creek Canyon (Leyden Gulch), and a potable water recycling facility, among others.

The Corps of Engineers is currently preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to assess the impacts and issues associated with of each of these alternatives. However, the preferred alternative(s) will only be known after the EIS is released. Originally scheduled to debut in early 2005, current indications are that the report may be delayed for several months, if not longer.

That delay troubles Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran. These delays mean the Moffat Collection System EIS may not be reviewed concurrently with another EIS for an additional proposed project that may take more water out of the Fraser River Basin—Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. She said Grand County officials strongly believe both proposals must be reviewed concurrently to assess their combined environmental, economic, social and other impacts. Environmental concerns listed in the initial scoping documents included concerns for the health of the Fraser River, South Boulder Creek, water quality, land use and recreation.

Although Grand County has participated in recent EIS scoping meetings and other discussion forums, Underbrink-Curran remains skeptical that Denver Water will provide any significant accommodation. “It’s not an easy solution because Denver is determined to develop the storage necessary for ‘firming’ its water rights,” she explains. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room for us.”

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