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Eagle River to see huge September flows for water shepherding test

1,800 acre feet of water set to hit Homestake Creek and the Eagle River in the coming week

The Eagle River in Minturn.
Daily file photo

EAGLE COUNTY — Nobody is sure what to expect from our local rivers and reservoirs if and when the big water call comes from downstream.

This week, a test on Homestake Reservoir will be conducted to see how well that water flows through Eagle County and the Western Slope, and how much of it arrives at the state line.

And with 1,800 acre feet of water set to hit Homestake Creek and the Eagle River in the coming week, a late-season recreation opportunity will also present itself.

The test will measure stream losses between Homestake Reservoir and the state line.

“Engineers have modeled out what those stream losses would be, but nobody has ever ground truthed those,” said Greg Baker with the City of Aurora.

To best manage potential compliance issues with the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Compact, the Colorado State Engineer’s Office will need to know exactly how much water will reach the state line from all reservoirs.

At the Lee’s Ferry U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge below Lake Powell in Arizona, a required flow must be met, based on 10-year averages. If that required flow doesn’t make it there, “then we have to curtail some of our current use to meet that obligation,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of discussion about what that would look like, nobody really knows.”

‘Timing is perfect’

Since that call from Lee’s Ferry has never happened, but could indeed happen in the future, now is the time to do the test, Baker said. The fact that the good snow year of 2019 created plenty of water for Homestake Reservoir, and flows are low currently from the not-so-good water year of 2020, also makes it an ideal time.

“The timing is perfect for this sort of investigation,” Alexandra Davis, the deputy director for water resources for Aurora Water, was quoted as saying in a release issued Monday. “Our reservoirs are well positioned at this time, even with the current drought conditions, and the lower flows in the rivers mean we will generate valuable information regarding protocols and practices currently in place for releasing stored water.”

Colorado has a lot of options to get water to the state line. If, and how much, Homestake Reservoir could help in an effort like that are among the questions the study will attempt to answer.

“How would we move water in the state to get to the state line to meet that obligation, and would it make it there?” Baker said. “That’s our biggest challenge.”

Water will help

Holly Loff with the Eagle River Watershed Council said the study is important.

“We need to understand if shepherding of water really makes it to its destination as intended,” Loff said.

As for the timing, “it doesn’t necessarily follow the natural hydrograph, but we’ll take the water,” Loff said. “Every little bit is going to help us out, we were 64% of average as of last week.”

The release is scheduled to occur Sept 23-Sept. 30 and will start with flows of 25 cubic feet per second, gradually ramping up to produce flows of less than 175 cfs.

The flows will be “within normal spring/summer runoff levels,” according to a release issued by Aurora water. “There is no inundation concern for property adjacent to the tributaries.”

Baker said anglers and perhaps even kayakers with the right gear might enjoy the high flows as the water moves from Homestake Creek to the Eagle River and on to the Colorado River.

“This is what you have the dry suit for,” he said. “We’re reaching out to recreational groups out there, as well, to take advantage of this opportunity, but we also want to make sure fishermen aren’t surprised, if they’re used to a certain flow this time of year.”


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