According to a Denver Post examination, Colorado could increase its water storage capacity by the equivalent of four Chatfield Reservoir’s if the state’s water project funds were adequate. Many dams in the state are far from full capacity, limited by safety concerns from the Department of Natural Resources. The department says it lacks the funds to repair existing dams that have been deemed unsafe.
Over the last five years the state loaned $80.5 million to landowners to help rehabilitate 35 dams. But since 2009, lawmakers have siphoned off $120 million from the states water project fund to help close the budget gap.
Lawmakers this year alone attempted to take another $10 million from the fund, but Rep. John Becker (R- Ft. Morgan) told members at the CFB Legislative Conference that he was able to block the joint budget committee from taking the full amount. Thanks to his efforts, the JBC only raided $5 million from the fund.
All of this comes at a time when water managers across the state are looking for ways to increase water storage capacity in the face of a growing population. Repairing existing dams requires much less money and does not require the long regulatory approval process that is necessary to build new dams.