Meeting Genesee’s Current and Future Needs for Water

Climate change is reducing the reliability of the Bear Creek watershed. The science is clear on the climate and results in what the geophysical world calls “constructive interference” – a long-term trend of increasing temperature added to short term temperature fluctuations that together make summers hotter and dryer and winters warmer, with reduced snowfall and faster snow melt. Coupled with current estimates of future development along the foothills, the historical paradigm for the Bear Creek  watershed is outdated and of little current use. Those who do not protect their water and storage rights run a risk of losing a portion of them.

The Genesee Water and Sanitation District (District) is a quasi-governmental entity, which is completely separate from the Genesee Foundation (GF) homeowner’s association. It provides water and sewer service to properties within the Genesee Foundation, Genesee Village, Chimney Creek 1 and 2, Genesee Crossing and the Genesee Town Center. Although the GF has no authority to direct or control the operations or decisions of the District, it is important to all of us who live in Genesee to keep abreast of District activities and developments. The GF represents 62% of the District’s customer base by number and a higher percentage of the total revenue base of the District. The critical infrastructure and services provided by the District are integral to maintaining the value of our properties and preserving our quality of life. The GF Board considers it important to assist residents in staying informed. Accordingly, below is an update on a project the District has been pursuing for several years, which recently the District Board voted to discontinue.

The District’s water storage reservoir near Highway 74 is an important component of the District facilities.  The reservoir was originally planned to have 125 acre-feet of storage capacity, but logistical issues limited the initial construction to 101 acre-feet. It has long been the goal of the District to expand the storage to reach the planned 125 acre-feet. As time has passed, the need for more storage has expanded and become more pressing. As explained in the District’s December 2021 letter to customers regarding a fee increase, the expansion of water storage is necessary because climate warming is causing surface water supplies to become unreliable due to insufficient snowfall and an increasingly rapid and early snow melt. Protection of the community water supply and preservation of Bear Creek water rights led the District to pursue an expansion beyond 125 acre-feet.

Beginning in 2019, the District took several steps toward accomplishing the expansion. 

  • Conducted an engineering study, supported by state funding, which revealed the lowest-cost option to be expansion of the 16 acre-foot former sewage effluent holding pond on Bitterroot (known as Reservoir #1) to 46 acre-feet and plumb it into the Advanced Water Treatment Plant, increasing District storage to 147 acre feet.
  • Submitted the engineering study and cost estimate to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in 2020. The CWCB provided the District with a detailed design and construction loan commitment of $4.24 million for 40 years at 2.5%, and subsequently provided a grant of $1.384 million to enable the District to undertake the project, observing that storage was needed on oversubscribed Bear Creek water rights.
  • In 2022, the District solicited and received bids for the project, and selected the lowest-bid contractor.  Inflationary trends resulted in bids higher than the 2020 estimate and the District immediately began discussions with the contractor regarding possible value engineering actions to contain costs.
  • At its May 2022 meeting, the District Board instructed management to prepare a letter and a request to the CWCB for additional funding for a total of $5.5 million for 40 years at 2.5% interest. The request was submitted to CWCB on June 1. It was viewed favorably by CWCB staff, and a final decision would be made at the CWCB Board meeting in late July. 
  • The District has expended approximately $500,000 to date on the plan to expand Reservoir #1 to 46 acre-feet.

At its June 28 meeting, the District Board voted not to proceed with the expansion of Reservoir #1 to 46 acre-feet (“Plan A”) and to pursue an option referred to in the meeting as “Plan B.”  The discussion regarding continuing pursuit of the expansion was a last-minute addition to the agenda on Monday morning, the day before the meeting took place. Board members described Plan B as a smaller expansion of Reservoir #1.  To our knowledge, no engineering has been done on Plan B and the engineering work completed by the District to date is not applicable to the Plan B reservoir. No CWCB commitment has been obtained for funding the smaller storage reservoir. Thus, Plan B is not a plan at all, it is just a concept.

Prior to a vote of the Board, multiple Genesee Foundation residents submitted written and verbal objections to cancellation of the three-year project and planned expansion. In addition, both the District Manager and Operations Superintendent spoke in favor of the 46-acre-foot Reservoir #1. One former member of the District Board and one member of the current District Board spoke strongly in favor of Reservoir #1. No comments supporting discontinuing expansion were offered, except by Board members who voted to stop pursuing the project in favor of Plan B.

After hearing the comments, the Board held a vote moving to Plan B by a vote of four to one.  Jim Hurd, president; Cynthia Corbett, vice president; Frank DeFillipo, treasurer; and RS Leland, director, voted to pursue Plan B and stop work on the 46-acre-foot Reservoir #1 project referred to as “Plan A”. The sole vote for continuing Plan A was from Director Branch Russell.

It is important that the community understand how the District plans to supply the community’s water requirements in the long term. It is also important for residents to obtain answers from their elected representatives on the District Board if they have questions or concerns about the benefits and costs of additional water storage and how water storage and supply needs will be met after cancellation of the 46-acre-foot expansion project. To facilitate improved understanding, the GF, as the largest customer of the District, will reach out to the District Board to suggest a meeting for all members of the District. Such a meeting will give the District Board the opportunity to explain the rationale to customers and to answer questions District customers might have. The GF will be pleased to schedule and host such a meeting, via Zoom, after discussion with the District Board of Directors.

Summary of customer advantages of the Enhanced Dam #1 project

  1. Provides protection for a portion of our currently unused water storage rights. Colorado population and water needs are increasing water supply is not.
  2. Additional drought protection in multiple low rainfall years growing the usable storage capacity from 101 acre feet to ~145 acre feet.
  3. Provides a legitimate alternate supply to the AWTP in the event of maintenance downtime or a failure of existing infrastructure between Dam #2 and the AWTP.
  4. CWCB support through two mechanisms: $1.38 Million of outright grant funding $4.24 Million, 40 year, 2.5% loan in support of construction
  5. Improves operational flexibility and adds reliability.
  6. Improves area aesthetics available to all Genesee residents.
  7. Provides realistic capability for recycling of gray water if it became necessary.
  8. Any negative impact is temporary, the long term advantages are permanent. 

Gary Anderson

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