Gross Reservoir hearing

To listen to Monday's Boulder County commissioners public hearing on Gross Reservoir: http://bit.ly/1lAzVEy

The Environmental Protection Agency has added its voice to those with critical comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' analysis of the potential impact of a Gross Reservoir expansion.

"This letter and enclosed detailed comments reinforce the primary concern as stated in the EPA's draft EIS letter that the Project would adversely impact water quality and aquatic resources in an already degraded system," the EPA's letter stated, referring to criticisms it initially raised when the analysis was in draft form.

The letter, from the EPA's office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation, asserts that the Army Corps' analysis describes all mitigation measures "as conceptual, and does not include mitigation commitments for some Project impacts that are significant to regulatory requirements" of the Clean Water Act.

The official 45-day public comment period for the finalized environmental impact statement for what is formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project closed on June 9, and the EPA's letter carries that date.

The project manager for the proposed expansion has said, however, that the Army Corps would continue to take "meaningful" and "substantive" comments on the analysis until the agency makes a decision on the project, likely by April 2015.

The project, if approved, would add 72,000 acre feet of storage to the southwestern Boulder County reservoir, operated by Denver Water, nearly tripling its capacity.

Denver Water has said that greatly expanding the size of the reservoir is necessary to satisfy the thirst of its growing number of customers and to provide greater stability in its supply system. Denver Water would like to pull more water from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers through the Moffat Tunnel to fill the newly expanded reservoir.

The EPA in its letter also states that it hopes its comments will stimulate further discussions with the Army Corps, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Denver Water to ensure that its concerns are addressed prior to issuance of a project permit, so that the project is compliant with the Clean Water Act and "protective of waters of the U.S."

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., had implored the Army Corps on June 5 to extend its public comment period. And, the same day, the Boulder County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter detailing their objections to the adequacy and accuracy of the Army Corps' analysis of the project, also saying the 45-day window for public comment should be extended.

On Monday, the commissioners held three hours of public comment on the project, which will be distilled and used to contribute to a follow-up letter the commissioners will be sending to the Army Corps.

"We had a full room, and I would say it was very well attended, and that people came in with quite a bit of research, science and data," said commissioners' spokesperson Barbara Halpin.

Calls to the Army Corps for comment on the EPA's letter were not returned.

The EPA's letter was welcomed by the Save the Colorado River Campaign, a philanthropic partnership working to protect and restore the river's health.

"We join the EPA, U.S. Forest Service, and Boulder County in having significant concerns about the Moffat Project. The Fraser and Colorado Rivers are already seriously depleted — the Moffat Project will make it much worse," -- Gary Wockner, coordinator for the Save The Colorado River Campaign, said in an emailed statement.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com. Follow him at twitter.com/chasbrennan