Growth driving water decisions |

Growth driving water decisions

Cliff Thompson

Water supply, of course, is a key element in growth across the arid West. How much, where and when are the questions. What a consultant hired to answer those questions discovered in Vail and the Vail Valley has surprised some.

“What surprised me,” said Linn Schorr, head of engineering for Eagle River Water and Sanitation, “is how many of the big projects in Vail seem to be coming to fruition all all once. It’s going to be difficult.”

The water districts want to dove-tail water-line improvements and upgrades with redevelopment and new development to reduce the construction costs to the town, Schorr said.

Redevelopment will increase the density slightly, and possibly reduce the amount of irrigated land, so calculating the amount of water needed requires a uniform system.

Eagle River Water and Sanitation and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority supply treated water to 22,762 single-family equivalents, or SFEs, from Wolcott to Vail. That’s the amount of water used by 2.5 people occupying a dwelling of 3,000 square feet.

Vail’s $75 million Front Door redevelopment project at the base of Vail Mountain and the $500 million overhaul of Lionshead are expected to get under way in the next two years. What additional water rights, if any, that these new developments will require is being studied by the district’s engineers. Both projects are heading toward initial review by the town.

Growing demands

Those projects will add more than 500 condos, townhouses and single family homes, as well as a net increase of 95,000 square feet of commercial space to Vail between 2003 and 2008, consultant Stan Bernstein said in a draft overview of water needs for the water and sanitation district.

Commercial space is also rated in SFEs, based on the size of the tap requested, said Eagle River General Manager Dennis Gelvin.

The largest of those projects will be a 170-room hotel built on the current west day parking lot in Lionshead and an adjoining 45-condo project. The next largest is an 85-room hotel to be built atop the old gondola building site that will also have a net increase of 80,000 square-feet of commercial space.

Bernstein’s draft report indicates Vail will add an average of 136 SFEs per year from 2003 to 2008: “The key questions associated with the above mentioned VRI (Vail Resorts Inc.) and other real estate developments is what level of future SFEs should Vail Water use for financial planning purposes.”

Downvalley will see even more new development than Vail. From Dowd Junction to Wolcott, Bernstein’s report states, there could be an additional 6,065 SFEs by 2017.

Not surprisingly, the Village At Avon is seen as the largest single development and will bring 2,400 SFEs, including a Super Wal-Mart and Home Depot, as well as some 2,000 residences. Other development in Avon will bring 1,189 SFEs, with 400 of that happening at the Confluence site along the Eagle River over a 12 year period, while Arrowhead could see 918 SFEs. Bachelor Gulch will see 507 SFEs, the Cordillera 736, and Edwards 736. Minturn is expected to add five SFEs per year, Bernstein’s report states.

Growing the supply

Developers are required to provide the water district with additional water or a payment that the district can use to purchase stored water, Schorr said.

One of the sources of water expected to become available in coming years is water stored in Eagle Park Reservoir, east of Camp Hale. That reservoir holds slightly more than 2,100 acre-feet. But with a larger dam, as is planned, it could hold as much as 11,700 acre-feet. That’s water enough for nearly 47,000 people.

But not all the planned increase in stored water at Eagle Park Reservoir is for domestic consumption on the Western Slope.

Vail Resorts will use up to 1,100 acre-feet for snowmaking on its mountains in Eagle and Summit counties.

And nearly 50 percent of the increase in storage capacity will belong to Colorado Springs and Aurora under a memorandum of understanding with water users here generated during the decade-long litigation over the Homestake II proposal.

West of Wolcott, Eagle has been planning for significant growth, said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell. Eagle’s population, now at 4,000, could triple at buildout.

Unlike upper valley communities that can use water stored in reservoirs, Eagle has acquired agricultural ditch rights that are turned back into Brush Creek as demand and flows dictate, Powell said. The town also has 125 acre-feet stored in Sylvan Lake, but increasing the storage capacity there there would be cost-prohibitive.

Gypsum, at about 4,000 population now, could see up to 13,000 residents at buildout. It, too, has acquired agricultural water rights in lieu of storage, said planner Ken Long.

This summer Gypsum and Eagle did not have to impose mandatory restrictions on water use as the upper valley district did, but they did ask their users to voluntarily cut back.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or

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