by Nancy Stocker and Polly Reetz
Audubon Society of
Chatfield State Park is one of the
most visited state parks in Colorado, with 1.5 million visits annually.
and out-of-state visitors come to boat, swim, hike, bike, fish, watch and
photograph wildlife, train dogs, scuba dive, ride horseback, and launch hot-air
balloons. But major disruptions to many of these activities could occur in the
next few years.
A consortium of water providers has proposed
storing up to 20,600 acre-feet of additional water in Chatfield Reservoir,
which would raise the water level of the reservoir 12 vertical feet. The 2,800
page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) evaluates storage of the
proposed amount of water, cursorily examines other water supply alternatives,
and presents storage in Chatfield Reservoir as the preferred plan. The DEIS
does not make clear that only in wet years (about 3 years in 10) would the
water be available for storage, as the providers’ water rights are very junior. In dry years, when water is most needed,
the consortium would receive minimal, if any, water. The changes to Chatfield
State Park, however, would be ongoing and dramatic.
The plan would remove 300 acres of trees
around the reservoir and along the South Platte River, Plum Creek and Deer
Creek, replacing forests with mud flats.
These trees shelter hikers and bikers from the sun, especially on
sweltering summer days. The cottonwood forest along the South Platte River
includes huge trees that are over 100 years old. It is rich with wildlife. Few
people, apparently including the writers of the DEIS, realize that these
cottonwoods proposed for removal along the South Platte River above Kingfisher
Bridge provide nesting sites for birds like the Saw-whet owl and common
merganser, a cavity-
nesting duck. The dense wooded area that would be removed along Plum Creek
provides daytime hiding places for white-tailed and mule deer, raccoon and
porcupine. In recent years, a small elk herd has wintered there.
Currently the water level at Chatfield
Reservoir is kept fairly stable during the summer months, when park visitation
is highest. If the proposed storage plan were implemented, the level could vary
up to 17 feet during this period. Although the additional water would be there
infrequently, fluctuations in water levels may degrade water quality and cause
increased erosion. The swim beach facilities would have to be rebuilt above the
expected highest water level. About seven years in 10, this would mean a walk
of 500 feet or more for swimmers needing the bathroom. One might question the
impact of that on water quality! The marina would have to be re-
anchored to deal with the fluctuating water levels. Picnic areas would be
rebuilt farther from the water. They would lose the natural shade currently
provided by large trees.
You might expect boaters and fishermen would
be the big winners from the enlargement of the reservoir. Actually, they would
not. Most years the water level will not be significantly different from the
current level. The 500+ acres under water about three years in 10 would be
shallow, making them unsafe for motor boats and water
skiers. The shallow areas are likely to be warmer than the reservoir has been
historically, which will create more water quality impacts and degrade fish
habitat. Increased water fluctuations will negatively impact the reservoir’s walleye spawning program that involves 30-40
million eggs annually, and the smallmouth bass
The DEIS indicates the amount of water from
the reservoir flowing into the South Platte River through Littleton and Denver
would be reduced for nine months of the year, and increased for only one month.
This could affect river-based recreation in Denver and add significantly to the
costs of sewage treatment for Denver and other municipalities because river
water dilutes effluent from treatment plants.
People have begun asking, “Is this
undependable storage of extra water worth destroying the heart of a beloved
state park and its biological and recreation resources, and reducing flows in
the South Platte River below the dam when there are other storage
Find more information,
including a link to the DEIS at SaveChatfield.org.
The comment period on the proposal to increase water storage at Chatfield
Reservoir ends Sept. 6, 2012.