Feds sue water company for breach that damaged Rocky Mountain National Park
Federal officials sued a Fort Collins water company Monday claiming that a ruptured culvert in 2017 damaged a wide swathe of Rocky Mountain National Park when it sent water and sediment rushing downstream.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Colorado, marks at least the second time the Water Supply and Storage Company’s infrastructure failed, wiping out trees and plant life in Rocky Mountain National Park. Neither representatives for the company or the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency behind the lawsuit, could immediately be reached for comment.
The Water Supply and Storage Company built the Grand River Ditch system in the late 1890s and it captures rain and snowmelt on the east slopes of the Never Summer Mountains in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, the lawsuit’s complaint says. That water is diverted east over the Continental Divide and used in communities along the Front Range and the Eastern Plains.
In June of 2017 a culvert holding back water in the Grand River Ditch system, ruptured and sent massive amounts of water flowing into the Lady Creek flood plain, which ultimately drains into the Colorado River, the complaint says.
“The incident caused extensive erosion and deposition of rocks and sediment,” the complaint says.
More than two acres of forest, stream, riparian and wetland areas in the park suffered “significant damage,” the lawsuit alleges.
Hundreds of conifer and willow trees were lost and a hiking trail was damaged, the lawsuit says.
“The rupture resulted in approximately 100 percent loss of vegetation within the impacted area at Lady Creek,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks for the Water Supply and Storage Company to pay for damage to the park’s natural habitat and other damages. It also asks that the Grand River Ditch be condemned and sold to pay for the damages.
The company paid federal officials $9 million in damages for a similar incident in 2003 when part of the Grand River Ditch failed, sending water through the park, the Department of Justice said in a release announcing the settlement.
“More than 100 cubic feet per second of water flowed through the breach, causing extensive damage to park resources,” the release said. “The mountainside beneath the breach was largely obliterated by the rush of water out of the ditch. The erosive power of water, rock, mud and vegetation caused significant damage to an old growth spruce/fir forest, Lulu Creek, the upper Colorado River, and filled the Lulu City wetlands with sediment.”
The company agreed to pay damages in 2008, in what was at the time the largest payment since Congress adopted the Park System Resource Protection Act nearly two decades earlier, the release said.
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