Forest Service approves Whitney Creek drilling project near Minturn
Preliminary work will help determine whether the Homestake Valley is a feasible location for a potential reservoir; Wilderness Workshop calls it ’misguided’
The White River National Forest on Monday approved a proposal from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to conduct geotechnical evaluations in the Homestake Valley about 10 miles south of Minturn.
The authorization allows 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. In total, a little more than a half-mile of temporary roads will be necessary. Work is expected to begin in late summer 2021.
This preliminary geotechnical work will help the cities determine whether the Homestake Valley is a feasible location for a potential reservoir. The cities hold water rights in the Upper Eagle River Basin and are parties to the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding to develop a joint water use project in the basin.
“Our analysis and approval only apply to the limited geotechnical investigations,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis. “If we were to receive a proposal for a reservoir in the future, it would be subject to a detailed environmental review with multiple opportunities for public involvement.”
The cities’ proposal met the criteria for an evaluation under a “categorical exclusion” – a less detailed analysis than an environmental assessment that is used for proposals such as short-term geophysical investigations.
“We took a hard look at potential impacts, which we expect will be short-term. The approval includes a number of stipulations to minimize impacts,” Veldhuis said.
The nonprofit Wilderness Workshop said it requested a comprehensive environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, noting that drilling test wells will have significant impacts on wetlands, wilderness, wildlife and roadless forests.
“Wilderness Workshop is disappointed in today’s decision by the White River National Forest to approve drilling test wells in the Homestake Valley — the first step toward constructing a new dam and reservoir that could inundate portions of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area and send Western Slope water over the Continental Divide,” said Will Roush, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “We are opposed to both the test drilling allowed by this special use permit, as well as the potential Whitney Reservoir, and will oppose this project every step of the way.”
The nonprofit also notes that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the project and encourages people to sign a petition opposing any new dam in the Homestake Valley.
The authorization, maps and additional background are available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58221