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More people, more snow … but more water?

Allen Best

Vail Valley interests – defined here to mean from Wolcott to East Vail – are the driving force in expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir.

Glenn Porzak, attorney for Vail Resorts, as well as several districts, has been began negotiating with Aurora and Colorado Springs since the mid-1990s about building a shared-use reservoir. Under the deal, the two cities agree to give up some of their water rights in exchange for a project that they can achieve without a fight.

The interests that control the reservoir are looking at two more immediate steps. First, perhaps even this fall, a 1,200-foot pipeline will be laid to pump water from the East Fork of the Eagle River back to Eagle Park Reservoir next spring. The cost is estimated at $1 million. That could yield an additional 455 acre-feet of water, or about a third more than what is stored at Vail Pass in Black Lakes.

Longer term, Eagle Park could be expanded from its existing theoretical capacity of 3,000 acre-feet to 7,000 to 9,000 acre-feet. Vail-area officials hope Denver, which also has extensive water rights in the Gore and Piney valleys, as well as in the Camp Hale area, will also join the deal. Aurora is reported to be particularly motivated to get the project completed in six to seven years.

One problem is that Eagle Park Reservoir sits near the Continental Divide, and hence has relatively little watershed above it. For that reason, water may have to be pumped into it.

An expansion of the reservoir to hold up to 20,000 acre-feet has also been discussed. But that would involve cleaning up other pollution, which raises costs.

Also being considered is the potential of using the underground aquifer below the lower part of Camp Hale, near Pando, as a storage reservoir of water during very wet years. However, the technical feasibility of that has not been proven.

Smaller reservoirs

Other reservoirs in the valley may be possible, as well. Gypsum is actively seeking more reservoirs in the Gypsum Creek drainage, and Eagle hasn’t discounted a potential need for a reservoir. As well, 26 other reservoir sites in the Eagle Valley and its tributaries have been studied in past years, but discarded.

Wolcott reservoir

Longer term, but far more speculative, is a reservoir envisioned by Denver north of Wolcott that would inundate the 4 Eagle Ranch. Denver purchased the land, then owned by sheep rancher Perry Olsen, in 1989 – not for its water rights, but as a reservoir.

A Wolcott Reservoir could serve a purpose similar to that of Wolford Mountain Reservoir, near Kremmling, but possibly also different. It could, under one scenario, be pumped across Vail Pass to Dillon Reservoir. However, it could also be used as compensation for water diverted elsewhere – in exchange for water pumped from Green Mountain Reservoir back up to Dillon. Water for this reservoir might be drawn from the Colorado River near State Bridge.

Breckenridge gravel pits

Summit County’s needs may be more pressing, and its options fewer.

“There are not many places for buckets there,” says Porzak.

He does envision gravel pits, located between Breckenridge and Farmer’s Korner, being lined with impermeable substances and made into recreational or at least aesthetically pleasing facilities. Water could be pumped back to Breckenridge, a short distance. The town already owns the property.

The advantage of Eagle Park and the Breckenridge gravel pits is that the sites have already been marred by previous activities, reducing the environmental complexities.

On-mountain reservoirs

Also likely in the future are more small ponds on the ski mountains, such as already exists on Beaver Creek and is being planned for Vail Mountain. These ponds don’t store much water, but they will allow more refined application, avoiding severe impacts to creeks when there is little native water in them.


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