Denver Water, Boulder County to consider settlement proposal to end Gross Reservoir lawsuit

Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.

Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.

“The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”

Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement.

The Gross Reservoir project has been in the works since 2002. Denver Water officials have said the $464 million, five-year reservoir expansion is vital to keeping the taps running for 1.5 million customers. The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.

But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project.

“Denver Water’s project will have significant impacts on Boulder County residents and the natural environment,” said Dale Case, Boulder County’s community planning and permitting director, in the news release. “This settlement proposal ensures meaningful environmental mitigation and assistance for those nearby residents who will be most impacted by the dam expansion project.”

Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.

Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land.

In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.

A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.

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