WASHINGTON -- The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that he would veto construction of the Two Forks Dam in Colorado, a large water project sought by developers and opposed by environmentalists.
The administrator, William K. Reilly, said in an interview that the proposed $1 billion dam, which would be the most expensive dam in U.S. history entirely financed by a state and localities, would cause "unacceptable environmental damage."
The project was intended to augment long-term water supplies for Denver and surrounding communities, but Mr. Reilly said there were other, more acceptable sources of
water that would not destroy valuable wetlands, wildlife areas and a scenic canyon.
Mr. Reilly, who previously served as president of the Conservation Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, two leading environmental groups, had spoken against the dam before.
The veto, under a provision of the Clean Water Act, would be a milestone, but not necessarily the last word, in a decade-long struggle between Western developers and local officials, on the one hand, and and environmentalists, on the other. In previous disputes, federal policies favored growth.
Mr. Reilly said the EPA's decision was final, but added: "We fully expect this to go into litigation."
It was the first major dispute in the last decade in which the government came down on the side of environmentalists. It was not unexpected, given the environmental policies of the Bush administration, which supported and helped enact the renewed Clean Air Act and opposed offshore oil drilling.
The 615-foot dam was to have been built on the South Platte River near its confluence with its North Fork, about 25 miles southwest of Denver.
The dam, as big as Hoover Dam, would flood six towns as well as much of Cheesman Canyon, a wilderness area beloved by trout fishers, hikers, campers and boaters, and would have turned the canyon into a 7,300-acre reservoir, creating the largest lake in Colorado.
Officials in Denver and its suburbs contended that the area's population will nearly double to 3 million people by the year 2000 and that the dam was vital to insure the region's water supply.
But public opinion polls showed that most Denver residents were concerned about the project.
Sen. William L. Armstrong, R-Colo., said that without the dam other water sources would be found, and he warned that Weld County, a lush farming region, would be deprived of water it needs for agriculture to continue.
He said the population would keep growing whether or not the dam was built and added:
"What's really at stake are the lawns, parks and trees of the state. There will be plenty of water for drinking and bathing. The question is whether there will be the environmental amenities."