Minturn deal gives valley more water |

Minturn deal gives valley more water

Cliff Thompson

MINTURN – Minturn and a consortium of Eagle County water districts have reached agreement on the purchase of water from a ranch in Routt County that will help supply more water to the Vail Valley.The town and the water districts had squared off over how and when the ranch water will be used, and by so doing have ensured higher flows in the Eagle River at critical periods of time when the river is low.The water districts wanted to divert water from the headwaters of the Eagle River and store it in Homestake Reservoir. That water debt would be repaid by releasing water from the Flat Tops Ranch 50 miles downstream into the Colorado River at Dotsero.Minturn, where a $1 million river restoration project was completed last summer, feared the exchange of the 1,250 acre-feet of ranch water would lower the Eagle River through town too much, because water would be stored in the reservoir instead of flowing downriver. A lack of water in rivers caused by diverting the water for uses elsewhere harms rivers, water experts said.The agreement requires a minimum flow of 24 cubic feet per-second at the water gauge below Homestake Reservoir, said Anne Castle, water attorney for Minturn. That volume of flow below the dam would guarantee there would be 170 or more cubic feet per-second through Minturn. The flow in town this week has been at 80 to 90 cubic feet per-second.When water is being stored in Homestake Reservoir for the water districts, a maximum of 400 cubic feet per-second can be taken from streams in the headwaters of the Eagle River, said Castle. That’s water that’s not flowing down the Eagle River. The stored water would be released during dry winter months and other periods when supply is small and demand for irrigation water is large.”We were concerned the region of the river between Homestake Reservoir and Dotsero would be depleted by the exchange,” she said.The water would be diverted and stored only during a two-week period of time in June and July, said water district attorney Glenn Porzak. Under the exchange of ranch water for upstream storage the water districts have the ability to store up to 500 acre-feet in Homestake Reservoir.In agreeing with the water districts on the Flat Tops Ranch water, Minturn also dropped its demand that the water districts provide additional flows in the Eagle River.Instead the town is asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board to boost the flow of the river. The Water Conservation board is a state agency that ensures there will be enough water flowing in Colorado rivers to protect fish and other aquatic life.The town is seeking a 50 percent increase in minimum flows from December to April and from October to November from 20 cubic feet per-second to 30 cubic feet per-second. Minturn also wants the state board to increase the minimum flows in August and September to 70 cubic-feet per-second and to boost flows from May to July to 148 cubic feet per-second.The request to the state will be evaluated next year according to a letter written to the water districts by Castle.Six years ago Minturn squared off in court against a consortium of water users that included the water districts and Vail Resorts in a challenge to the legitimacy of the town’s unused water rights. The town lost nearly 4 cubic feet per-second of its 7 in the challenge.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or factAn acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field a foot deep and is enough water to supply a family of four for a year.==========================================Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism