New Eagle River reservoir still more ‘if’ than ‘when’ | VailDaily.com

New Eagle River reservoir still more ‘if’ than ‘when’

If it's ever built, a reservoir 'above Minturn' would be split between locals, Colorado Springs and Aurora

If a new reservoir is ever built on the upper Eagle River, it will mostly be used for streamflow management, important to maintain fish and other wildlife.
Daily file photo
What’s an acre foot?The common measurement for water supplies can be a little tricky.An acre foot of water covers an acre of flat ground one foot deep.It’s also often referred to as enough water to supply the needs of a family of four for a year.An acre foot is also approximately 325,800 gallons.

EAGLE COUNTY — A new reservoir on the Eagle River is in the discussion stage, but it will be years before anything is built.

A long story in the June 23 edition of The Denver Post made brief mention of a 30,000-acre foot reservoir “above Minturn for moving Colorado River Basin water eastward through pipelines.”

That surely raised some eyebrows among those who have followed the long saga of the sometimes-contentious relationship between local and Front Range water rights holders in Eagle County.

That long saga started in the 1980s, when Colorado Springs and Aurora, the two cities that hold water rights on the upper Eagle River, submitted plans for the second phase of Homestake Reservoir.

Eagle County denied a permit for additional water, a legal wrangle that in the 1990s ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Eagle County won that battle.

An understanding

Out of that wrangling came what’s called the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding. Aurora, Colorado Springs, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Climax Molybdenum Company, Vail Associates, Inc., Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority were participants in that process

The end result was the guarantee of stable water supplies in the Eagle River, with particular attention given to maintaining streamflows for river health.

The idea for the reservoir “above Minturn” is one product of all that legal work. The MOU’s objective is to: “Develop a joint use water project in the Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.” The parties agreed to study four joint-use project alternatives located in the vicinity of Camp Hale and the Homestake Valley — “above Minturn.”

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District has played a role in all those discussions.

District External Affairs Manager Chris Treese said the idea for that reservoir is still in its very early stages. That means that at this point, there’s only the most general idea of location and size. Treese said there’s a good bit of territory “above Minturn.”

What is known is that the 30,000-acre foot project would be split three ways. Aurora and Colorado Springs would each take 10,000 acre feet per year. The remainder would stay in the Eagle, mostly for streamflow management.

The river’s needs

That much water could be helpful for the river, especially in warm or dry years.

Eagle River Watershed Council Project and Event Coordinator Kate Isaacson noted that during the 2018 drought, trout in the river were under stress due to low flows and warm water temperatures.

“It becomes an issue of fish, and our livelihood (from tourism),” Isaacson said.

As the American West continues to dry out — the previous snow season was an anomaly in the past several years — water becomes a more valuable resource, especially with population growth, she said.

But enhancing water supplies has become a process that can take years. Treese said the process can take “decades” of discussion, investment and, of course, appeals.

For the Eagle River reservoir, Treese said there’s another potential active participant in the partnership: the owners of the Climax Mine atop Fremont Pass. Treese said there’s still some question about whether that firm will or won’t participate, or if the company might use some of its property for a potential reservoir.

The existing Eagle Park Reservoir is on the mine’s property. In some ways, that relatively small reservoir — 3,300 acre feet — on Climax property and opened to water storage in 1998, would seem a good candidate for expansion. A recent idea could expand the reservoir to as much as 9,000 acre feet.

So, while people are talking about more water storage for the Eagle River portion of the Colorado River watershed, there’s still a lot more “if” than “when” in the state of current plans.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.