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Construction is largely on schedule at Chatfield State Park, where crews are moving shoreline amenities and infrastructure to higher ground as part of a project to increase the storage capacity of the reservoir, which will see the high-water mark rise by 12 feet.
The Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project is a $130 million effort to add an additional 20,000 acre feet of water storage capacity to the reservoir, to be used by eight municipal water providers and agricultural organizations across the metro area and northeastern Colorado. Construction, which started last winter, is expected to wrap up in about a year.
Several projects have been completed: Both the north boat ramp and the Massey Draw Day Use Area recently reopened to the public, said Chatfield State Park manager Scott Roush.
“Massey is more of a limited opening because we want to get stuff revegetated, so we have some parts fenced off,” Roush said. “It still allows parking and boat access.”
The balloon launch area, which was scheduled to reopen on May 1, likely won’t open until mid-May because of weather delays in revegetation efforts, Roush said. A length of the west perimeter road stretching from the west park entrance the Kingfisher Day Use Area is slated to reopen around Memorial Day.
Ongoing construction on the project will keep both the swim beach near the park’s western entrance and the Plum Creek Nature Center closed all summer. Much of the Plum Creek area will become part of the new flood plain.
Currently, the only way to access the campground is through the park’s southern entrance along Roxborough Park Road.
Crews are working on environmental mitigation in the Plum Creek Nature Area, Roush said.
“We will have to take out some trees in that area,” Roush said. “But we should be able to save more than we thought. The trees there won’t be inundated for the whole growing season. A lot of them are cottonwoods, and lots of them can handle being flooded.”
Longtime visitors to the park won’t see much difference even once the project is completed, Roush said.
“Everything is being replaced in kind so it’s being put back where it was,” Roush said. “We’re planting trees in all the affected areas, and once those come up it won’t look all that different.”
The project could add new opportunities for boaters, Roush said.
“Paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists will have new areas to explore at full pool,” Roush said. “It won’t be in the powerboating zone, though.”
Roush said the park will get new facilities and buildings at the swim beach and Massey Draw.
Audubon Society sticks to guns
The project doesn’t sit well with the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, which operates a nature center at the park’s south end and heads conservation efforts in the park.
The expansion project is being managed by the Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company, an umbrella organization composed of entities including the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, the Town of Castle Rock and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The reservoir is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which leases the reservoir and surrounding land to the state park system.
Audubon filed a lawsuit against the Corps and the mitigation company in 2014, alleging the project will irreparably harm wildlife habitat around the reservoir, and that the Corps’ environmental impact analysis of the project was flawed because it failed to consider less-damaging alternatives.
A district court judge ruled in December 2017 in favor of the Corps, 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. Oral arguments in the appeal are expected in the fall.
The group is hoping to stop the project before any trees need to be taken out along the shoreline, said attorney Kevin Lynch, who is representing Audubon.
“That’s the impact that’s most concerning,” Lynch said. “That’s prime, unique and valuable wildlife habitat. We want to send the Corps back to the drawing board to consider alternatives to the project.”
The project has been in the works for a long time, said Joe Maxwell, an operations manager with the Corps of Engineers.
“This started long before I got here,” Maxwell said. “The water resource managers proposed this project to the Corps, and we did an environmental impact statement on the project and approved the schedule and project designs. We’re not overseeing this like a typical project, because it’s not our contract and it’s not our money. We are making sure the mitigation company is doing what they said they would do.”
Audubon, however, is upset about the carving of a “haul road” — a rough road used to move construction materials — slated to be cut near its nature center, said Polly Reetz, the group’s conservation chair.
“I don’t believe there was any mention of this (in the plans),” Reetz said. “The road will go right through the parking lot of our nature center, then parallel to Wadsworth and curve down toward the South Platte River. As far as we can remember there was nothing like that discussed in the environmental impact statement.”
The proposed haul roads were properly reviewed and approved, said Kris Wahlers, an operations manager with the state park.
“Any new roads have been vetted through the process,” Wahlers said. “We’ve been diligent about making sure that everything is within scope of project. The plans have been updated since the original drafts — I’m not sure if Audubon saw original plans that have been updated, versus what’s gone through the review process and been approved later. Anything that’s happened has been reviewed and approved by the Corps of Engineers.”
Maxwell said he wasn’t sure about the status of haul roads in the area.
“I haven’t heard,” Maxwell said. “I know there are haul roads, used to move dirt. I don’t know if they were specified in the initial plans. They were just as constructed to get from point A to point B.”
More people, more water
Environmental mitigation has been high on the mind of project managers, said Tom Browning, the general manager of the Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company.
“We are planting approximately 100,000 new trees and shrubs within the park boundaries,” Browning said. “That will tremendously help out habitat for birds and wildlife.”
The increased storage capacity will allow for occasional flushes of additional water into the South Platte to shore up fish habitats downstream, Browning said.
The big picture, Browning said, is that as Colorado’s population grows, so will our water needs.
“This will help add storage capacity for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses,” Browning said. “This is an important piece of the puzzle for the long term sustainable water supply for the Denver area and even our farmers downstream in northern Colorado.”
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