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Colorado Springs sees two windows of opportunity

Allen Best

Then, after World War II, city boosters decided it was time to grow. Even as they bid for the Air Force Academy, the city in 1953 put on line its first transmountain diversion, tapping streams near Breckenridge for water stored across Hoosier Pass in Montgomery Reservoir. In most years, it delivers 10,000 acre-feet; this year it’s only worth 1,000 acre-feet.

Eagle River water followed. The Homestake Dam was completed in 1967, and water was diverted under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Lake, near Leadville. Downstream, near Buena Vista, it was pumped across the Mosquito Range into South Park, and then nudged by pumps the final miles across the shoulder of Pikes Peak and into the city.

The Roaring Fork River and its tributaries came next with an investment in the early 1970s in the Twin Lakes Reservoir Water and Canal Co. Now owned primarily by Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora, the system involves water from the Arkansas and also from the Fryingpan River.

Finally, there was an even larger project, this one generously financed by the federal government, called the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Of that water, 75 percent is still devoted to farmers in the Arkansas River valley, but Colorado Springs has 18 percent.

Growing rapidly in the early 1980s, Colorado Springs was determined to get more water from the Western Slope, through an expansion of its diversions near Mount of the Holy Cross. But as it tried, Colorado’s economy faltered, and population growth ebbed and even briefly declined. Meanwhile, that project, called Homestake II, was shot down by Eagle County.

In the past decade, Colorado Springs has looked at several options. Two that it has pursued most diligently both involve possible incremental increases in transmountain diversions and, more important, increased storage on the Arkansas River. This could be done by either a dam called Elephant Rock near Salida or by enlargement of Pueblo Reservoir. The city is now pursuing the latter idea.

“Our fundamental problem is not water rights. We have a lot of different sources. Our fundamental problem is that we need a delivery system capable of getting water to our community. We need a new pipeline system, and to make that pipeline system successful on a continual basis, we need storage where the pipeline starts. That’s at Pueblo Reservoir,” says Phil Scaletta, Colorado Spring’s manager of water resources.

But Colorado Springs has indicated it also wants to participate in an expanded reservoir near Fremont Pass called Eagle Park. Although the Western Slope stoutly opposed the Homestake II project, the city sees an opportunity to get something done in conjunction with Aurora and the Vail Valley, and possibly Denver, which also owns water rights in the Eagle River basin.

“There are always windows of opportunity with any project, and we believe we have windows of opportunity now with Pueblo Reservoir and with the Eagle River,” says Scaletta. A key advantage of Eagle Park, he says, it that it can be phased, as the needs of the Front Range cities rise.

Colorado Springs is also hoping to expand Turquoise Lake, near Leadville. The state of Kansas – with whom Colorado has feuded over water for most of the last century – is opposing that, as is the City of Pueblo.

Now at 400,000, Colorado Springs population is projected to hit 965,000 people in the year 2040.


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