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Eco-Terrorism Possible Motivation Behind Water Supply Vandalism

GRANBY, Colo. (CBS4) - Investigators with the Grand County Sheriff's Office are examining whether damage to a municipal water system was intentional and the work of activists intent on curbing the sell-off of mountain water to cities on Colorado's Front Range. Four headgates of the Northglenn Ditch that originates on Berthoud Pass were damaged Aug. 1. Temporary repairs were completed within days and there was no service disruption to water users in metro Denver.

Investigators are considering 'eco-terrorism' as a possible cause.

Water Collection Damage 1 (city of Northglenn)
(credit: City of Northglenn)

"These four gates are pretty remote and (are located) within about a half mile, quarter mile (area)," said GCSO Lt. Dan Mayer. "They (whoever damaged them) had to work. They had to know what they were doing. Somebody knows that system."

That system belongs to the Denver Water Department. The Northglenn Ditch is primarly operated and maintained by the city of Northglenn, but the four damaged headgates divert water to the city of Golden.

Water Collection Damage 3 (city of Northglenn)
(credit: City of Northglenn)

Northglenn spokesperson Heather Grady said permanently fixing the headgates would cost $100,000-150,000.

Initial estimates of the water lost by the city of Golden were $900,000, but Golden Water Resource Specialist Will Stambaugh said the city does not have firm numbers on its loss at this time.

But, "It's expensive," he said.

Water Collection Damage 5 (city of Northglenn)
(credit: City of Northglenn)

Golden used water from its reservoirs until repairs permitted a return to the ditch as a source. To that effect, the vandalism "didn't really accomplish any great goal," he said.

"We're aware of political tension of 'eastern slope versus western slope.' There are groups that want to make sure every drop of water stays on one side of the Continental Divide. But we don't look at it that way. The waters of Colorado belong to the people of Colorado."

Winter Park Police Department Chief Glen Trainor told CBS4, "That conflict has always been there."

But in his 29 years living in the Fraser valley, vandalism of property never reached the dollar value of this month's incident.

"I think the vast majority of folks feel those (Front Range) people have rights to that water," he said.

Water Collection Damage 2 (city of Northglenn)
(credit: City of Northglenn)

Grand County's Mayer said his agency patrols a "huge infrastructure" of supply lines belonging to Denver Water, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

"We've got a lot of water coming out of here and we haven't heard of damage to their stuff," he said, suggesting the vandals likely focused on this particular section of water system rather than making a random selection.

"This in a year when we have plenty of water," he added. "Everything is flowing so well. This isn't a drought year.

"(The vandals) are not trying to take it (water) away from people; they're trying to damage the people providing it."

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