Under a unique collaboration arrangement, additional water is being made available to improve environmental conditions and water quality during low-flow periods on the South Platte River. The effort, spearheaded by The Greenway Foundation and Denver Water, will increase the Chatfield Reservoir environmental pool by 500 AF. The increase will bring the environmental pool to 2,100 AF.
Denver Water committed to providing $2 million to fund the purchase of 250 AF of storage space if the foundation could raise the funds for the remaining 250 AF. In August 2016, The Greenway Foundation launched a pledge drive seeking commitments of $7,500/AF of storage space. As of July 2017, The Greenway Foundation had met its goal, with 22 funding commitments from 10 public entities, 6 foundations and non-profits, 5 private parties, and Capitol Representatives.
The Walton Family Foundation, who provided funding for 45 AF, sees the arrangement as innovative and potentially precedent-setting.
“The foundation focuses on developing sustainable water management practices for the Colorado River basin,” said Ted Kowalski, who leads the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative. “This innovative project pairs agricultural water users located downstream on the South Platte River with holders of existing storage located upstream at Chatfield Reservoir, to benefit both parties and the intervening riparian environment of the South Platte River. This could be a model for use throughout the Colorado River basin, and other basins.”
The storage space will be owned by Central Colorado Water Conservancy District (“CCWCD”), a downstream agricultural water district. CCWCD will store water in the reservoir and pay the annual operations and maintenance charges in exchange for a right of first recapture—meaning the district has first call on the water and can divert it after it meets its environmental objectives.
The increase in the environmental pool is part of the larger Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project that began after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that 20,600 AF of the reservoir’s capacity could be reallocated from flood control to water supply without impacting flood control functions. The reallocation will increase the height of storage by 12 feet, so mitigation efforts must be undertaken to replace the environmental and recreational amenities that will be impacted. The funding raised for the storage space will go towards the environmental pool’s share of the mitigation efforts. The $7,500/AF price is the maximum for mitigation costs under an agreement among the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, CCWCD, The Greenway Foundation, and Denver Water.
While the stated goal of the environmental pool is to improve environmental conditions and water quality, improving streamflows during low-flow periods will provide multiple benefits.
“Our goal is to enhance efforts to improve the urban reach of the South Platte River, helping to ultimately create a fishable river right in the heart of Denver,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We believe that with the commitment of the community, this river that has been ignored can be healthy and beautiful to help ensure Denver remains a vibrant, exciting city.”
“The Greenway Foundation is grateful for the very generous grant from the Walton Family Foundation as well as Denver Water’s commitment for support through the fundraising challenge” said Jeff Shoemaker, The Greenway Foundation’s executive director. “Contributions to the environmental pool are a one-time only cost for environmental, water quality, and recreational benefits that will last for generations.”
Written by Marta L. Weismann