[Note added by SaveChatfield.org: The Audubon Society of Greater Denver has shared with us the comments it submitted on Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Environmental Impact Statement. A reformatted the version of the introductory paragraphs and executive summary are presented below. The complete version is available as a PDF file at www.savechatfield.org/comments/ASGD_Final_EIS_Comments.pdf.]

September 3, 2013

Col. Joel Cross, Commander
US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
Attn: Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation FR/EIS
1616 Capitol Ave.
Omaha, NE 68102-4901

Dear Colonel Cross:

The following comments are submitted on behalf of the Audubon Society of Greater Denver (ASGD), Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, and Clean Water Action, on the Army Corps of Engineers’ (“Corps”) Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (“FR/FEIS”).

ASGD is a grassroots conservation organization based in Littleton, Colorado, with about 3,000 members in the Denver metro area. Our mission is to advocate for the environment through research, education and conservation. Save the Poudre is an organization of diverse people and groups joined together to protect the Cache la Poudre River. Clean Water Action is a one-million-member group whose goals include clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of environmentally safe jobs, and empowerment of people to make democracy work.

Representatives of ASGD have been involved with the Chatfield Reallocation project for almost 12 years and have actively participated in the Chatfield “cooperators” meetings. While we commend the Corps, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the project proponents for initiating the “cooperators” process, we must express frustration that most of our comments and concerns as expressed during the cooperators meetings, in emails to the Corps and in comments on the Draft FR/EIS were not substantively considered and addressed in the process leading to the FEIS. A genuine collaboration process goes beyond simply sitting at the table!

It is probably safe to say that initially all parties involved, including ASGD, thought that the impacts of the proposed Chatfield Reallocation would be fairly benign and the project relatively straightforward. In hindsight, perhaps, everyone should have been more sensitive to the fact that the project was proposed in one of Colorado’s premier state parks.

The perception, or misperception, that this is a benign project seems to have continued through much of the process even though it is now abundantly clear, as the FEIS documents, that the adverse environmental and recreational impacts are massive and some of the impacts very difficult, if not impossible, to fully mitigate. In hindsight, and as documented in the FEIS, the proposed Chatfield Reallocation is far more complex and environmentally damaging than anyone initially envisioned. Clearly this posed major challenges for the Corps as well as all the other entities involved in the Chatfield study.

While it is clear that NEPA compliance is the Corps’ responsibility, it appears that the process and the contents of the FEIS were largely driven by the project proponents with limited oversight by the Corps, an Agency responsibility that goes beyond the individual project managers. Perhaps another manifestation of the perception that this was a benign project was the Corps’ assignment of staff project managers with limited experience in dealing with complex and controversial water projects and the requirements under NEPA. The fact that there were 4 project managers over the course of the NEPA process did not help in providing solid, sustained Corps leadership on such a complex project. This is NOT intended as a criticism of the project officers, as they were put in an extremely difficult situation that would have challenged even a seasoned veteran. Clearly the project is far more complex, has much greater impacts, and consequently is far more controversial than anyone initially envisioned. The unfortunate net results of the Corps’ not exercising its duty to impartially analyze the project are the numerous arbitrary and capricious decisions which led to the selection of the most environmentally damaging alternative as the “preferred” alternative.

In reading the FEIS and Appendices we were very disappointed that, although some minor concerns received responses, virtually all of our major concerns noted in our comment letter on the DEIS were not addressed in the FEIS. While there have been some improvements such as more detailed information on mitigation and the Corps’ responses to some comments, the fatal flaws remain, including noncompliance with NEPA and the Clean Water Act and a mitigation plan that falls far short of replacing the many environmental and recreational values which would be lost if the project proceeds as currently proposed.

Perhaps one consistent theme in the FEIS is an obvious bias toward the alternative supported by the water providers rather than the objective, impartial analysis required under NEPA (40 CFR 1502.1, Purpose “It shall provide full and fair discussion…”). A bias toward the “Preferred Alternative” is further supported by the various “policy waivers” granted for the project.

More specific concerns and comments on the FEIS are contained in the following discussions. It is clear, however, that the discrepancies and the deficiencies in the FEIS, including violation of Federal statutes as well as the Corps’ own Planning Objectives and Planning Constraints, are of such magnitude that they can only be addressed through the preparation of a Supplemental EIS (40 CFR 1502.9(c)).

Executive Summary

The Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District (“Corps”) is still in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) in its Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement (“FR/EIS”) for the Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Project (“Chatfield Reallocation”) because it:

  1. failed to explore all reasonable alternatives,
  2. failed to offer a reasonably foreseeable “no action” alternative,
  3. failed to disclose and discuss all relevant information pertaining to the water supply yield of each alternative,
  4. failed to offer appropriate mitigation by lack of firm, enforceable commitments and overreliance on “adaptive management,” and
  5. failed to comply with NEPA and the Clean Water Act by segmenting the proposed Reallocation project into three separate components.

As proposed, the Chatfield Reallocation results in the inundation of 587 acres of recreational and wildlife habitat in Chatfield State Park, approximately 200 acres of mature, irreplaceable cottonwood gallery forest and many acres of high quality wetlands, bird habitat, free-flowing reaches of the South Platte, Plum Creek and Deer Creek and critical habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (FEIS p. 2-65, Tbl. 2-9). Furthermore the newly reallocated space in Chatfield Reservoir might be entirely filled only 18% of days, allowing the participating providers access to their water just 3.5 out of every 10 years (ibid). During the remaining dry years, Chatfield Reservoir will be surrounded by a “bathtub ring” of barren, dusty mud/sand flats (FEIS p. 4-78-79). We request that the Corps provide a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”) that includes objective discussions of all reasonable alternatives, a reasonably foreseeable “no action” alternative, disclosure of relevant (safe or firm) water supply yield, definite and enforceable mitigation measures, and assessment of the complete project as required by NEPA and the Clean Water Act.

[Note added by SaveChatfield.org: This concludes the Executive Summary. The complete version of the ASGD comments is available as a PDF file at www.savechatfield.org/comments/ASGD_Final_EIS_Comments.pdf.]

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