Dry weather prompts river restrictions
September 23, 2005
EAGLE COUNTY – In a somewhat rare move, a measure to restrict the amount of water taken out of the Eagle River has been put in place, mostly to ensure fish have enough water to swim in.The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which manages the state’s program monitoring water flow in rivers, placed a “call” on the river earlier this week. The board, which has its own water right to protect the river, essentially told those with junior water rights that they have to stop diverting water from the Eagle.”Most years it doesn’t happen,” said Dave Merritt, chief engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District (a separate entity from the Conservation Board, which oversees water policy in western Colorado). “In spite of what seemed like a good year, it has been dry.”Merritt added that this is the time of year such a call would be expected, since it’s a dry time of year and the required minimum flows for the river are still at the higher summer level. On Oct. 1, the required flow will change, likely eliminating the call.
For example, he said, the minimum flow between Homestake Creek outside of Red Cliff and Cross Creek, closer to Minturn, is 25 cubic feet per second from May 1 to Sept. 30. On Oct. 1, that number changes to the less-stringent winter level of 11 cubic feet per second.Water rightsThe way water rights work in Colorado and most of the West is a sort of first-come, first-served policy that creates levels of seniority. If, for example, you establish a water right in 1980, whoever comes after you will be junior to your right. In certain situations, you can place a call and tell those junior to you to stop or reduce their diversion of the water.
In the case of the Conservation Board, even though the rights they established in the late 1970s are relatively junior, they’re still senior to many in the Eagle River basin. That means some of the entities that draw from the river have to do things a little differently.Caroline Bradford at the Eagle River Watershed Council, an environmental watchdog group, said the power to place such a call for the health of the river is critical.”(The call) is good news, because it shows the system is working like it’s supposed to, protecting the environment,” Bradford said, adding that she thinks the tool isn’t used often enough. For those with rights junior to those of the Conservation Board, Merritt said they have plans in place to deal with it. Vail Resorts, the Conservation District, Eagle River Water & Sanitation and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority are partners in a small reservoir near the old Climax Mine. When a call is placed on the water they normally divert from the river, their augmentation plan kicks in, replacing what they take with water from the Eagle Park Reservoir.
With projections for the coming years seeming to show more dry than wet, and with development increasing, the demands on the Eagle River will probably continue to grow.”This is expected as development expands in the Eagle River basin,” Merritt said.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado