Target: U.S. Forest Service

Action: Ask the Forest Service to conduct an Environmental Assessment before allowing drilling for a dam in Homestake Valley

The Forest Service is considering a proposal to drill ten 150-foot bore holes and conduct a seismic survey in Homestake Valley this summer. Aurora and Colorado Springs, collectively called the Homestake Partners, are conducting this investigation in preparation for building a 9,000-19,000 acre-foot dam (Whitney Reservoir) on Homestake Creek. The use is 100% consumptive: once the water heads to the Front Range it will not return to the Colorado River basin.

Please tell the Forest Service that they must conduct a detailed environmental analysis and that a drilling rig — and, eventually, a dam — does not belong in the wetlands, fens, fragile headwater streams, wilderness, or roadless areas of the spectacular Homestake Valley.

The Whitney project is an alternative to the Homestake II project, which would have built a dam in the Holy Cross Wilderness and was successfully defeated by massive community outcry and legal action in the 1990s. This alternative is no better than Homestake II. To build the dam, the Partners propose eliminating as many as 497 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness. Each of the potential dam alignments would also intrude into designated roadless area. The dam — and the drilling — would drain or drown fens, a special kind of wetland which has taken around 10,000 years to form and which performs important purification functions in watersheds. The Fish and Wildlife Service calls fens “irreplaceable.”

In preparation to build Whitney Reservoir, the Partners want to test four different dam alignments, beginning work this July. The Forest Service is proposing to use a “categorical exclusion,” exempting this project from meaningful environmental analysis like an environmental assessment. But the drilling and seismic survey involve extraordinary circumstances which make it ineligible for a categorical exclusion:

• It would have significant impact on wetlands, wilderness, and roadless area.
• To finish the project in time, trees would likely be cut during avian breeding season.
• The Forest Service’s maps of fens in the area are out of date and it has not seriously considered the drilling’s impact on these ancient wetlands.

Free-flowing creeks and wetlands are especially important in Colorado. The Forest Service’s own regulations commit it to protecting wetlands, wilderness, and our watersheds. Please tell the White River National Forest that this proposal, and the dam it would make possible, require further environmental assessment before a special use permit is granted and drilling begins — comments are due June 30.