Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion

Long-awaited project will increase water storage on north side of collection system and deliver environmental benefits.

July 7, 2017 | By: TAP Staff

The Army Corps of Engineers on July 6 cleared the way for the $380 million expansion of Gross Dam and Reservoir in Boulder County, concluding more than a dozen years of study and debate that ultimately produced widespread support for the project among water providers, environmentalists, civic leaders and others.

The additional storage capacity in Gross Reservoir will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and help offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system.

“We did this carefully and thoroughly, and brought everyone into this process,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “As a result, we have a better project plan with significant environmental protections. We’re proud to be doing the right thing.”

The project earned key endorsements from Gov. John Hickenlooper, state and federal lawmakers, major environmental groups, local mayors and city councils, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, county elected officials and water interests on both sides of the Continental Divide.

Last year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment through its 401 Certification process determined that the project will have a “net environmental benefit” to water quality in Colorado.

Denver Water worked with representatives of several environmental groups to develop the mitigation and enhancement plan that will carry out those benefits, which Trout Unlimited called “a victory for the river.”

“It shows that, working together, we can meet our water needs while protecting our fisheries and outdoor quality of life,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

Raising the dam

Gross Dam was built in the early 1950s and was designed to be expanded in the future to increase water storage capacity.

When completed, Gross will be able to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water — the equivalent of more than 25 billion gallons.
When completed, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water — more than 25 billion gallons. Image credit: Denver Water.

The project is called a “dam raise” because engineers will increase the dam height by 131 feet, nearly tripling the reservoir’s storage capacity. When completed, Gross will be able to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water — the equivalent of more than 25 billion gallons.

An expanded Gross Reservoir will provide balance and reliability to collection systems that serve many in the Denver metro area.

Denver Water will use 72,000 acre-feet of the added capacity as insurance against future challenges, including drought, wildfires and future growth, particularly on the north side of its collection system, which currently accounts for only 10 percent of total storage capacity.

The additional water supply will come primarily during the high runoff months of May, June and July. Additional water will not be diverted for this project during dry years.

The remaining 5,000 acre-feet will be set aside for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods.

Preconstruction activities, including dam design and geotechnical work, are expected to begin in 2018. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Expanding Gross Reservoir fulfills a major piece of Denver Water’s long-term plan to deliver safe, reliable water to the people it serves now and into the future. This plan also includes conservation, reuse and responsibly sourcing new supply.

The next milestone in the project is an approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Denver Water’s hydropower license amendment application. The license amendment allows Denver Water to expand the dam, produce more energy beyond its current level of 7.6 megawatts, and modify the existing recreation management plan to accommodate the new high water line, among other things.

“This project represents an enormous amount of work, input and collaboration,” said Lochhead. “From Denver Water’s perspective, we feel really good that we’ve done the right thing by the local communities, by the environment and for our long-term customers.”

7 thoughts on “Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion”

    1. Yes, Highway 72 will be one of the roads used for construction traffic. We are developing a Traffic Management Plan for the project and will solicit feedback from local stakeholder groups to minimize traffic impacts and to ensure the project is completed safely. To learn more about construction traffic and Denver Water’s efforts to minimize the impacts, visit the Gross Reservoir Expansion project website.

  1. Colorado roads become more and more construction vehicle damaged, as if inconsiderate ignorant vehicle drivers weren’t enough, just the other day riding to Boulder a “driver” crossed over two lanes of traffic at a sharp angle just missing the motorcycle I was operating.

  2. Gross Dam would not exist if the railroad had not been nearby to haul in material. Now, rather than using the railroad to haul material, Denver Water is going to negatively impact everyone between Longmont and the dam for at least five years, probably longer, by having giant gravel trucks running 24×7 during concrete pours. Just to save a few dollars.

    I can’t wait until all the supporters of this project get caught in the traffic jams on Highway 93 and US 287 that will be caused by these trucks.

    1. Denver Water plans to work closely with local residents to ensure safety during construction, including coordinating with school bus schedules. We also are evaluating scheduling options that minimize impacts for the safety of the residents, especially children, who travel along the construction traffic routes. Safety is our number one priority, and we will be responsive to community concerns.

      Our engagement with the community has already resulted in many tangible improvements, including reducing truck traffic on Hwy 72 and Gross Dam Road by 75 percent by quarrying sand and gravel at the reservoir site. Learn more about our work to minimize impacts, here. It is also important to note that we are not hauling gravel and we will not be hauling on 287 from Longmont.

  3. First of all how is the structure of the dam hold over 60 years and what happens if you build on top a dam if it needs completely redone? Second I saw a fire damage 8 years destroyed 2000 acres of forest near the dam with so many machines going on and employees smoking might cause a another huge fire? Third people say to help increase the water capacity but what happens if the lake behind the dam goes down like the Hoover dam on the Colorado river the lake has almost has disappeared lake Mead? In Colorado right now there is so much expansion as a resident living in Denver and Colorado it’s hard sometimes to remember the beauty of the open space if wasn’t for parks still being around we might call Colorado choas a mile high? I rarely go downtown anymore because I cant see anything original anymore like the football stadium was called mile high then Invesco now called empower get my point. For example how much thin is a have grown around Denver union station. RTD also known as Fastracks said by now they would have light station to boulder, Longmont, highlands ranch and like fort Morgan but that was a major project that hasn’t been finished so how do we know that this expansion on the gross dam be finished too and the promises be kept.

    1. Hi Nathaniel,
      You’ve raised a lot of questions, so let’s dive in with some answers.

      Denver Water operates 20 dams throughout our system and has an extensive dam safety program that monitors the safety of our dams. One reason Gross Dam was chosen for expansion is that the original engineers designed the existing dam to be expanded at some point in the future. We’re building on the work they did, and designing safety features into the new, higher dam so it will be safe. The design of the expansion project also continues to undergo thorough review by both state and federal agencies as well as an independent Board of Consultants that includes five professional engineers with a combined 173 years of experience. Ensuring the safety of our team and the public is a top priority for Denver Water on this and all projects we work on.

      Denver Water also is very familiar with the consequences of wildfires in our collection system. We and our partners have worked hard over the years through the “From Forests to Faucets” program to reduce the potential for wildfires. During construction, Denver Water will put measures in place to reduce the potential for fire, including the development of a Fire Management and Response Plan for construction and continuing to work closely with local first responders and fire rescue departments.

      As weather patterns grow more uncertain due to climate change, there will be more “wet” years and “dry” years. The expanded Gross Reservoir is designed to capture water in wet years, when it is available, and hold water for use during dry years, when it’s needed. The wet years of 2013 and 2018 are prime examples of years when we would have been able to store additional water in an expanded reservoir.

      Lastly, Denver Water has planned for this project for many years. We’ve also spent years working with the neighbors around Gross Reservoir, hearing what they are concerned about and figuring out how to reduce disruptions stemming from this project. Many of the things we will do to mitigate the impact of the project are embedded in the permits and agreements we’ve received to do the project. We will keep those promises. Already, Denver Water has completed multiple stream restoration projects associated with the expansion project prior to the dates we are required to do so. We chose to do these projects ahead of schedule to show good faith and continue to strengthen relationships with stakeholders.

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