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Battle looms over Eagle River water

Nicole Frey

MINTURN ” More is better – at least that’s what the town of Minturn thinks when it comes to how much water is in the Eagle River, which runs through town.

Minturn has requested the Colorado Water Conservation Board allocate more water than previously required for their section of river between Cross and Gore creeks.

“Minturn is always looking to improve the quality of our water,” said Town Manager Ann Capela. “Sometimes, even to the naked eye, the river is low, and we’d like to see more instream flow allocated for the health of the river.”



Minturn’s interest in raising flows comes on the heels of a river restoration project to clean the Eagle River after being doused with pollutants from the Eagle Mine in Belden. With $1.2 million in grant monies, Minturn cleaned, revegetated and streamlined a portion of the once-orange river, Capela said.

“The project was so successful,” said Ann Castle, Minturn’s water attorney. “It really brought the river back to life again, and the town wanted to make sure all that good work didn’t get undermined by not having enough water in the river for the future.”



With plans in the works since February, the town of Minturn has enlisted the help of Ecological Resource Consultants to help determine how much more will be enough this time.

Minturn is asking for almost three times as much water than is now appropriated from May through July and double the amount in October and November, said Jeff Baessler, senior water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The conservation board is the only entity that is able to grant more water

“We feel it seems reasonable at first glance,” Baessler said. “But we’re still doing water availability studies.”



Opposition

To opponents of the increase, including the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts, the request not only threatens their upstream water right, but may not be legal.

“This raises a much larger, complex legal issue,” said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney representing Vail Resorts. “Since the (Colorado Water Conservation Board) can only appropriate the minimum amount to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree, and they already got a decree that says the amount they got was the minimum amount, there’s a real serious question as to whether or not they can enlarge an appropriation for an instream flow once they already got a water right.”

But ecological consultant Troy Thompson calculated the current minimum flows had never been enough to maintain a healthy river, so although the restoration project made the river a bit narrower, more water will be needed to protect the environment there, Castle said.

“The river has changed,” she said. “The last appropriations was made 27 years ago, and the science tells us they weren’t adequate. It’s appropriate to take a new look.”

In order to grant the additional water, the conservation board’s directors will have to be convinced the decision will not harm any existing water rights, like those held by the water and sanitation district and Vail Resorts.

“We know enough about it to know we’d rather not see it happen,” said Dennis Gelvin, the general manager of the water and sanitation district. “We would like to not have anything happen in the river that would affect our plans to do more in-basin storage.”

But for Minturn, it’s not a matter of plans to come, but the health of the river today.

“Minturn is just looking out for this natural asset to the town,” Capela said. “It’s the heart of Minturn. If there’s an opportunity to put more in and retain more, I think it’s good for the health of the fish and the river.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or nfrey@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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