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July 23, 2012
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Does the Vail Valley have water for new construction?

Those trying to use the drought to hammer another nail into construction's coffin are using the wrong tool, local water officials say."The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has sufficient senior water rights and storage to cover full build-out development under dry-year conditions," said Glenn Porzak, one of the state's leading water attorneys and legal counsel for the district.That doesn't mean filling those water lines will be easy or cheap, said district general manager Linn Brooks."There have been cases where the cost of water has been a deterrent. Developers whose experience comes from other areas of the state or country may be surprised at the cost of water rights in our area," Brooks said.

A water provider's job is to provide water for customers, both current and future, said district communications and public affairs manager Diane Johnson."We continuously examine what development projects are on the books," Johnson said. "We see a vacant lot, and we have to understand what might be on it."Land-use authorities - planning and zoning commissions, town councils and county commissioners - deal with details such as roads, density and so on. Eventually, land use authorities ask the water districts if they have the water they need."Our answer is always yes," Johnson said.It's "yes" because rejection is not their role."We are not the land-use authority that has the legal right to say no (to a development project). Some people are trying to use water as a hammer to slam the door and say no more people in Eagle County," Johnson said.The question then becomes how easy or difficult providing water will be and what it will cost, Johnson said."If we do need to do a lot of development, it's going to be much more expensive," Johnson said.A new home in Singletree is easy. Everything is in place; the owner pays the tap fee and plugs into the system.On the other end of that spectrum, a few years ago a developer wanted to build a project on the mountainside north of Singletree. District officials said yes to that, as well, but the amount of money it would cost to provide water was breathtaking.

You'll need water rights or money, said Bill Wombacher, a water attorney with Porzak, Browning and Bushong. "You have to come to the table with something," Wombacher said. "If you develop a project and you want to annex into a water district, the entity will demand that you give up some water rights or pay significant fees."The stalled West End development project in Edwards paid that fee, Johnson said. EverVail will probably bring water rights to the table because Vail Resorts has good water rights under the state's complex system of water laws.Developers pay as they go, Brooks said. The water district has seen the Wolcott project coming for years and has already increased capacity to accommodate it."As with all capacity increases in our system, the expanded capacity is paid for by the new customers to the system. As development occurs in Wolcott, development will pay for the right to be served by the district's water rights and augmentation plan," Brooks said.

Western water rights are among the most costly in the country, and ours are among the most expensive in Colorado.The price is based on what it will cost to provide that water to users, not supply and demand, Brooks said.Developers are required to estimate the water use of their proposed projects. Then they dedicate 110 percent of that amount to a water district.The water district prefers that developers dedicate water rights - and prefer "wet" water rights to rights that exist mostly on paper - but they will take money.Since few water rights remain available, the district has been picking up rights, either by buying them or claiming and developing them.The water provider has to provide the water and isn't taking any risks, Brooks said."Water providers have no incentive to accept water rights that are inadequate," Brooks said.Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 26, 2012 01:14PM Published Jul 23, 2012 08:09PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.