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More "buckets’ needed

Cliff Thompson

Participants included interested individuals, members of the Eagle River Watershed Coalition, and representatives for the cities of Colorado Springs, Aurora, the Arkansas Valley and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“We need to solve the hardest issue – storage,” said Arlene Quenon, the only lawyer present and a former member of the Eagle County Planning and Zoning Commission.

A transbasin diversions removes water from one river basin and funnels it to another, typically across the Continental Divide. In the past, building reservoirs for transbasin diversions was like an old Western shootout, except participants drew lawyers instead of guns. They subsequently found it prohibitively expensive – so much so they decided they needed a better means of settling things.

Cooperation replaced controversy six years ago after the decade-long Homestake II Reservoir dispute between Eagle County and the Front Range cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora was settled. Future water projects being developed by Eagle County water users and the two cities are now to be jointly developed.

Most of the 425,000 acre-feet that flows down the Eagle River leaves the county without being used here. And with the ongoing drought – the worst in 125 to 500 years with streams and rivers flowing at 20 percent of normal – everyone is rethinking their water needs.

They all are agreeing on one point, too: There is need for more reservoirs on the Western Slope.

Seven potential sites

A preliminary study underwritten by Colorado Springs and Aurora has identified seven potential reservoir sites where water collected during the high flows of spring could be released slowly during low-flow months. All would require some form of pumpback system to get the water to the Front Range. They include:

– A 20,000 acre-foot impoundment at Bolts Lake, south of Minturn, created by a 120-foot tall dam.

– A new 20,000-acre-foot reservoir in the Homestake drainage near Blodgett Campground.

– An enlargement of the existing Eagle Park reservoir, east of Camp Hale, to nearly 12,000 acre-feet.

– A 45,000 acre-foot reservoir at Mitchell Creek, near Tennessee Pass;

– A 2,000 acre-foot dam at Pando, west of Camp Hale.

– A 5,000 acre-foot reservoir at Resolution Creek, north of Camp Hale.

– A possible dam site at Grouse Creek, north of Minturn.

The Denver Water Board alone had rights to divert an additional 200,000 acre-feet from the Eagle River, and that could happen if existing, undeveloped water rights are developed.

“Mother Nature doesn’t always deal the Eagle River the best hand,” said Kerry Sundeen, a Glenwood Springs hydrologist. “The only way we can do this is with stored flow from the runoff.”

Where, how much and who will pay for it still are questions the group is attempting to answer.

“There’s a need to get water stored high in the Eagle River,” said Tom Simpson of Aurora.

That need is estimated to be 30,000 acre-feet, or enough water to meet the annual domestic needs of 120,000 people. Ten thousand acre-feet would be released into the Eagle River, with the rest diverted to the Eastern Slope through existing water rights.

“Early predictions of in-basin storage were probably low,” Sundeen said. “The worse year assessment was 1977. This year is so much different.”

Sundeen said the Western Slope needs stored water more than the Eastern Slope.

Another source of water could come from Reudi Reservoir in the Fryingpan drainage, east of Basalt. That reservoir already has unused capacity that could utilize existing pumpback systems and serve multiple uses, Sundeen said.

Underground storage?

Another possible storage solution is undergound at Camp Hale, where a large yet undefined aquifer exists. But underground storage is problematic,

“It’s a complex issue,” Sundeen said.

And perhaps reacting to the way things relating to water used to be, Sundeen added, all of the possibilities for enhancing storage amount to a “gleam in someone’s eye.”

“We’re not here to advocate any of these. We’re just thrashing out ideas,” Sundeen said.

The cost of building reservoirs has not yet been estimated, Sundeen said.

Tom Steinberg, a member of the Eagle River Watershed Council, suggested the hydroelectric potential of the stored water be explored so some cheap energy could be created.

The participants agreed building reservoirs is costly and problematic – but more than that, it’s needed.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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