Eagle County water deal has statewide impact | VailDaily.com

Eagle County water deal has statewide impact

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A recent deal between Denver Water and Eagle County could ramp up the pressure to export more water from Summit County in the long run ” or it could provide impetus for an overall settlement that balances West Slope and Front Range interests.

“Anytime something like that happens, it puts a bigger bull’s eye on Summit and Grand County,” said County Commissioner Tom Long. “It’s just a matter of time before they (Denver Water) look to start maximizing and exercising their water rights here,” Long said.

Under the agreement, Denver Water relinquished long-held rights to water from streams flowing out of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, on the Eagle County side of the Gore Range, including the Upper Eagle River, the Piney River and Turkey Creek.

Plans for developing that water included a pipeline through the Gore Range to North Tenmile Creek and into Dillon Reservoir, for export to the Front Range via the Roberts Tunnel.

“It’s putting to rest a project from a previous generation,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District manager Eric Kuhn. The rights that Denver Water gave up in Eagle County as part of the agreement were mainly in streams flowing out of congressionally designated wilderness. Developing those rights would have been a challenge, possibly requiring a federal exemption, Kuhn explained.

Denver Water held similar rights in Summit County to streams flowing out of the east side of the Gore Range, with plans to divert the water via an East Gore canal, Kuhn said, explaining that Denver Water gave up those rights more than 20 years ago, Kuhn.

Not everyone thinks that the Eagle County deal will result in more pressure on Summit’s resources.

“The settlement is one piece of the puzzle in the global negotiations with Denver,” said Glenn Porzak, attorney for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. What the deal does do is put Summit County in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to other related projects that could be part of an overall West Slope-Front Range settlement, Porzak said.

Those projects include schemes like a proposed Blue River pumpback, carrying water from Green Mountain Reservoir back upstream to Dillon Reservoir, as well as a possible reservoir near Wolcott, in Eagle County. The Eagle County agreement could provide some momentum for moving forward on these other plans.

In the long run, it could be part of a comprehensive settlement that will benefit Summit County by helping ensure water levels in Dillon Reservoir for the important summer recreation season, as well as providing some additional yield for local use.

Dave Little, Denver Water’s manager of water resource planning, also said the recent deal with Eagle County has to be seen as part of a larger picture with many moving parts. Little also singled out the Blue River pumpback and Wolcott Reservoir as key pieces to solving the overall puzzle of how to equitably divide Colorado’s limited water supplies.

Until last week’s agreement, Denver Water was headed for a legal showdown with Eagle County. A draw-out court fight could have frozen the overall negotiations, Little said.

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