More storage in the "bucket’
Two weeks after a district-wide vote that denied money to build additional reservoirs, the Colorado River Water Conservation District announced it is considering increasing the size of a Grand County reservoir. The project could shore up Eagle County water supplies.
The district has filed a “conditional water right” to increase the storage capacity of Wolford Mountain Reservoir, four miles north of Kremmling, by 9,775 acre-feet. A conditional water right acts like a bookmark in the water court system, reserving a water right until the logistics of the project are worked out.
“Expanding existing reservoirs is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of increasing our storage capacity,” said Kathy Hall, a River District board member from Mesa County. “The drought of 2002 reminded us again of our need for additional water storage.”
Completed in 1992, Wolford Mountain, at 66,000 acre-feet, is a joint Front Range-Western Slope project that’s approximately one-quarter the size of Lake Dillon. In the existing pool, 60 percent of the water is allocated for Western Slope use and 40 percent for the Front Range.
If feasible, the enlargement of the reservoir may or may not involve Front Range Water interests, District spokesman Peter Roessman said. The construction will likely be funded by the fees generated by users of the reservoir, he said.
“The critical thing is filing for the water right to get a 2003 priority date,” Roessman said. “In an average year we should be able to get some firm yield out of this.”
It’s not yet known how much the project will cost, and it may be a decade before the additional water can be stored. If it is built as envisioned, it will be available to help augment river flows in the Colorado River basin, already heavily impacted by diversion for irrigation and water consumption.
The existing pool in Wolford is used to offset the effects of Front Range headwaters diversion in the Colorado River and also to provide water flows later in the fall for four endangered species of fish.
During the height of the drought in 2002, the worst in 300 years, the water supples of some Eagle County residents were threatened. They had converted seasonal agricultural rights to year-round consumptive rights. Water law required them to augment river flows using stored water and many purchased water stored in Summit County’s Green Mountain Reservoir.
But a potential landslide area near the town of Heeney held in place by the waters of the reservoir, prevented the reservoir operators from releasing the water when it was needed, forcing them to find another source.
The River District was able to arrange for water owned by Exxon and stored in Reudi Reservoir east of Basalt to be released.
The new pool of water could fill that same need for Eagle County and other counties in the Colorado River basin.
Wolford Mountain Reservoir was formed by a 120 foot-tall earthen dam. The district is studying the cost and feasibility of raising the dam’s spillway by six feet.
An acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field approximately one foot deep, and is enough water for a family of four for a year.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or email@example.com