Worried residents watch work at dam site

A proposed 215-acre reservoir near Sedalia — in a valley considered so beautiful there is a diorama of it in the Denver Museum of Nature and History — is still a possibility.

This, despite the Douglas County Planning Commission having nixed the idea twice, said Lisa Hughley Feb. 3, spokeswoman for homeowners who would live below the dam in the nearby Indian Creek Ranch Subdivision.

Homeowners in the 200-home subdivision have noticed soil samples being taken at the site by RJH Consultants Inc., an Englewood-based engineering firm.

Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said the soil work being done at the site is typical and that the reservoir developer is in the feasibility phase doing geological exploration, looking for “fatal flaws” in the area’s geology.

Hughey said homeowners — who have formed a group called Penley Action Committee — aren’t surprised things are proceeding.

She said that the project’s not getting approval previously didn’t stop anything.

In 2010, the first time the planning commission turned it down, the applicant was a private company, Penley Water Co., which ultimately decided to withdraw its application.

But then in 2012, the reservoir proposal was brought back to the county’s planning commission by a different applicant, the Mount Carbon Metropolitan District — which as a public utility with eminent domain powers, needs only the state’s approval, not the county’s approval.

So that time — the second time the planning commission saw the project, and voted against it — it was during a formal location-and-extent hearing required by state law. So despite the planning commission’s unanimous opposition on the matter, it was understood that in the future the state could decide to approve it, anyway, regardless of the county’s stance on the issue.

The hearing itself was more an opportunity for the Jefferson County-based metropolitan district — originally established to provide service in the Lakewood area — to inform the county about the project and hear any concerns.

They heard them.

At that 2012 hearing, according to planning commission minutes, a local water district in the Sedalia area, Thunderbird Water & Sanitation District and Rural Water Authority expressed concerns about safety and questioned the applicant’s intent and need for the project.

And West Douglas County Fire Department officials reported they were concerned that a dam breach would destroy the Indian Creek Ranch station and stated they didn’t have the capacity for water emergencies.

The minutes also stated that the “Colorado Geological Survey expressed the need for detailed site-specific analysis of existing faults and steeply-dipping bedrock areas to assure proper mitigation.”

About 45 people, area residents, testified about safety concerns because of unstable geologic conditions, decreased property values, loss of views and reservoir seepage impacting septic systems and underground water — as well as the potential leaching of chemicals from abandoned uranium mines in the area.

At the same hearing, Mount Carbon’s spokesman, wouldn’t comment on where the district would get the water from for the reservoir, who it would serve, or what water suppliers would be involved.

At the time, Bill Vincent, the planning commission’s vice chair, said that the commission “had seen applicants provide more information for the construction of an electrical substation or for a fence than for this project.”

Residents, who have formed the Penley Action Committee, are watching for the next step: When Mount Carbon submits its application to McCormick’s office. Hughey said McCormick would inform them when that happens.

McCormick told the News-Press his department takes dam engineering very seriously, and any new dams have to reviewed and approved by his office. He also said that having homes below a dam is not an unusual case in Colorado — giving as an example Standley Lake Dam, which is in the middle of Denver.

In general, there are a “lot of benefits to storing water in an arid environment — and some risks as well,” he said.

The height of the proposed dam wall above the nearest downhill homes is 120 to 200 feet and the reservoir would hold more than 4 billion gallons of water, according to a pamphlet put out by the Penley Action Committee.

Hughey said water is a huge issue for Colorado.

“We need water, too…,” she said. “But this is not a preferred location for a reservoir.”

Mount Carbon’s spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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