Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo

Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo

Construction of Moffat Tunnel near Denver, 1936 (Denver Water)
Construction of Moffat Tunnel near Denver, 1936 (Denver Water)

In the past decade, Jeff Drager has watched his two daughters grow up, graduate from high school and college and start their first jobs. Yet he’s still stuck on the same project at work – winning state and federal approval to build a new water reservoir.

Begun in 2003 and scheduled to be up and running by 2011, the project, known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, like many others across the state, still is mired in regulatory delays.

Whether or when Windy Gap will be built is still unclear 10 years after the first regulatory review took place.

Three other major water projects face similar delays and uncertainty.

Similar delays and cost overruns have plagued nearly every other major Colorado water-development project that has sought regulatory approval since the 1990 defeat of Two Forks Dam.

After more than a decade of drought and a new wave of growth, water utility planners believe the project review system is broken and must be fixed. Legal experts and environmental watchdogs say the projects themselves are outdated in concept and that utilities need to rethink how they obtain, store and deliver water.

Drew Beckwith, a policy analyst with the Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, compares large water projects to the lyrics of sad country-western songs: They’re always late and in need of money. They don’t live up to expectations and they’re risky. Beckwith said he believes the delays and overruns are more indicative of a planning issue than a process problem.

“It’s no surprise that the environmental-review process takes a long time,” he said. “These are big, complex projects that have lots of impacts on communities and the environment, and it’s appropriate to take a long hard look.”

“Water projects stuck in regulatory limbo”

BizWest (Northern Colorado Business Report), September 6, 2013

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