Red Cliff takes center stage in Homestake Valley Reservoir debate

Demonstrators take to the streets protesting construction of new dam

Protestors gather on Water Street in Red Cliff before hiking to Highway 24 to demonstrate against efforts to study a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley southwest of town. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, who have joint water rights in the existing Homestake Reservoir, have received Forest Service approval to conduct geotechnical evaluations in the Homestake Valley to determine whether a second reservoir is feasible for the area.
John LaConte/

A group of Colorado residents demonstrated Saturday against the construction of a reservoir in the Homestake Valley, marching through the streets of Red Cliff and treating passing vehicles to a variety of colorful signs.

If you were headed south on Highway 24 on Saturday afternoon, you might have been able to read a clever statement like “Stop the whole dam thing,” and “They can’t ‘fen’ for themselves.”

Or you might have noticed a message or two that was more direct. Using an elongated trash picking tool to hoist her sign, Silverthorne resident Jan Goodwin wrote “CO Springs doesn’t need Red Cliff’s water.”

The group is opposed to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley 6 miles southeast of Red Cliff, which would be used by the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora, who hold water rights in the area, including the rights to the water in the existing Homestake Reservoir.

But the nuances of the issue, including the sensitive wetlands known as “fens” and the study required for “the whole dam thing,” as referenced in the signs, was also discussed among the demonstrators. In order to construct a new dam and reservoir, the area will require some study, and the Forest Service has already approved that study, which will allow the cities to drill “10 bore samples up to 150-feet deep using a small, rubber-tracked drill rig as well as collect geophysical data using crews on foot,” according to the Forest Service, along with the construction of more than a half-mile of temporary roads to facilitate the work.

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The effort could also impact up to180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek, wetlands that include fens — groundwater-fed wetlands which began forming during the last ice age. A scientifically unproven idea to relocate the fens is being spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.

‘Feels selfish’

Saturday’s demonstration attracted dozens of Eagle County locals, as well as activists from neighboring Pitkin and Summit counties.

Several Red Cliff residents were in attendance, including Mallory Parks, owner of the Green Bridge Inn. Her neighbor Charles Fleming saluted her for attending, pointing out that the Green Bridge Inn could benefit from the visitation the body of water could bring. In several areas across the state, reservoirs are known as “National Recreation Areas,” calling attention to a perceived public benefit associated with dam projects.

Parks said while she does agree that Red Cliff is a mecca for outdoor recreation, the focus needs to shift into preservation.

“I don’t think there’s anything I’d look forward to, as a business owner, in seeing that dam being built,” she said.

Fleming said he would like to see the people of Colorado Springs and Aurora make more of a good faith effort toward water conservation before seeking another reservoir in the Homestake Valley.

“I’d like to see them get rid of the green grass and focus more on xeriscaping first,” he said.

Parks said as a hotelier in Red Cliff, she sees the recreational appeal of the Homestake Valley as a wild space, not a space that would benefit from the creation of a National Recreation Area or reservoir.

One version of the reservoir envisions an encroachment into 500 acres of the Holy Cross Wilderness area of the White River National Forest, which would require an act of Congress

“I can’t imagine that (the Homestake Valley) would be something we’d sacrifice before making other efforts first,” she said. “It just feels really selfish. … We need to be the voices that are protecting the wilderness around us, because that’s really what this area is about, and what people come here for.”

Kim West, of Edwards, shows off her signs at the Wilderness Workshop’s Save the Homestake Valley Rally on Saturday in Red Cliff.
John LaConte/

Busy weekend

The Wilderness Workshop out of Carbondale organized the event, which organizers called the Save the Homestake Valley Rally. The group used Mango’s Mountain Grill in Red Cliff as an outpost to seek signatures on a petition titled “No New Dams in the Homestake Valley.”

Erin Riccio, director of community organizing for the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said the group has been busy in Eagle County in recent months. Wilderness Workshop is also organizing the “Buck Berliamont” effort to halt the development of 19 large homes on a 680-acre inholding surrounded by White River National Forest lands north of Edwards.

Parks said the group picked the busiest weekend of the summer for Red Cliff, which also doubled as a stopover for the hundreds of ultramarathoners and crew members who departed out of the town and surrounding areas on Friday during the annual TransRockies run across Colorado.

Also on Saturday, the Copper Triangle brought thousands of cyclists past Red Cliff on Highway 24, as part of a 79-mile loop that takes riders from Fremont Pass to Tennessee Pass to Vail Pass.

Parks said she loves participating in events in Red Cliff, but she wishes she didn’t have to participate in an effort to protect her backyard from the thirsty cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs.

“Dams were an easier choice when we were looking at more plentiful water and less population, but now we’re looking at more population and less wild spaces,” she said. “I think we need to look more at protecting the wild spaces before we revert back to the idea of more dams.”

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