Full slate will greet new water board
EAGLE COUNTY – Chances are, most eligible voters won’t bother to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s election for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District board. But with 11 candidates vying for five seats and a slew of complex water issues on the horizon, it may well be one of the most important elections in an area where water essentially drives the economy.The district, which manages water for Vail and Wolcott and treats wastewater for the entire district, Vail to Wolcott, has seven directors on its board, each overseeing a particular area. While most of the day-to-day management is handled by the district staff, the board mostly focuses on “big picture” issues, said Rick Sackbauer, the current board president.”To me, a lot of it has to do with the continuance of the trust we’ve built over the past years with the water users of the Grand Valley, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and with the other headwater communities like Eagle and Summit counties,” said Sackbauer, who is term-limited as a board director. “I’d look to elect people who have some political experience, who understand development and growth and who understand the recreational and economic drivers of our community,” Sackbauer said. While the District board may be a small entity, it has some thorny problems and at least one major potential adversary in Denver Water. Water attorney Glen Porzak, who represents the District, said the board will face at least three major challenges in the years ahead. The biggest has to do with the water rights Denver claims in the area, and pending litigation that could go to court in November if a compromise can’t be reached.At issue are a number of undeveloped – or “conditional” – rights Denver has that could be contested. Porzak said because they’ve been undeveloped and some are over 50 years old, they can make the case that Denver hasn’t been diligent in maintaining those rights. Others may be difficult to permit, while others lie within wilderness areas, he said.But there may be room to compromise. Porzak said the District and other players may be able to convince Denver Water to give up most of those rights in exchange for cooperating on a small reservoir in Wolcott.”If they want to cooperate, maybe they can get some water out of it,” he said. “If they want to be adversarial, they could get nothing.”For the board, Porzak said that means deciding its stance on the issue. Some say they don’t want to see another drop of water from the Eagle River go to Denver.”And that means litigation with Denver, which is a tough adversary,” he said. “These are the kind of hard calls this next board is going to have to make. Maybe Wolcott’s the key.”Recreation & expansionThe other two issues Porzak identified as key for the new board are the continued protection and lobbying for the rights of recreational water use and work on bolstering water storage capacity. “The District board has been at the forefront to legitimize water rights for recreational purposes,” Porzak said. “That will be a continual battle, and I think all of the candidates have stressed that importance.”For storage, Porzak said pursuing smaller projects – like expanding the Eagle Park Reservoir and Black Lakes facilities – is part of the mix that the board has been “great about” in the past.
According to Bill McEwen, the state water commissioner for the Upper Colorado basin, the Eagle Park Reservoir near Climax has been critical for Eagle County water users.”As the valley continues to grow, the new growth in a lot of cases will need augmentation water,” McEwen said, referring to the common practice of releasing stored water – especially in dry season – to replace water owed to those with more senior rights. “A lot of rights are augmented through Green Mountain and Wolford reservoirs, but they can only protect against shortages on the Colorado, not the Eagle,” he said. The proposed Wolcott reservoir would be an “exchange” storage facility, Porzak said. That means the water would not go to the Front Range but remain in Eagle County, to be released downstream, thus allowing Denver to take more water from Dillon Reservoir. The latest proposal, he said, is for a smaller reservoir of 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet (Dillon is about 254,000 acre-feet).For Sackbauer, much of that work negotiating with Denver goes to Porzak while the board continues to look ahead. “They need to look out two generations and further,” he said. “A lot of this stuff won’t get built in their tenure on the board.”Other issuesSteve Bushong, another attorney who works with Porzak, said he believes the board also continues to monitor the situation at the Eagle Mine site near Minturn. The object of a massive cleanup effort from pollution left from decades of zinc mining, the Eagle Mine remediation is still a work in progress, he said.”It’s an issue that’s not going to go away, so long as there’s cleanup being done up there,” Bushong said.Another area of possible concern in that area comes from the proposed development of Battle Mountain into a private ski area, with a golf course and some 1,700 homes planned by Ginn Development Company. “If that development proceeds, there will be quite a bit of usage up there,” McEwen said. “How they will serve that remains to be seen.”According to Ginn spokesman Cliff Thompson, the plan is to build Minturn its own sewer plant, which will in turn free up water from Cross Creek in accordance with a 1998 settlement with the local water consortium (which includes the District). “We’re not there yet, so I can’t comment,” Thompson said, adding that “it’s a lot of water.”A likely scenario, though, would be that the town will annex the Ginn development into the town, then sell or lease it the Cross Creek water.For Porzak, the Ginn development will need to be monitored by the board.
“We just need to see that it doesn’t adversely impact the water rights of the District or the (Upper Eagle Regional Water) Authority,” he said. “That’s our focus.”Looking toward Tuesday’s election and a new board, Sackbauer said he has resigned as president and the board has elected Bobby Warner to the position. David Viele will be the new secretary/treasurer.”We’re blessed with an unbelievable staff to handle the day-to-day issues, and we’ve given staff the reins to do it right,” he said. “The board shouldn’t be micro-managing those day-to-day things. They need to hire good people, then deal with those big-picture issues.”
Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado