Reservoirs pump up Eagle River
AVON – If the flow of the Eagle River through Minturn looks a little more robust than what Mother Nature typically provides in mid-winter, there’s a reason.Water is being released from two reservoirs at the headwaters of the river that is helping to boost flows. Those releases – 4.2 cubic feet per-second from Eagle Park east of Camp Hale, and 4.2 cubic feet per-second from Homestake Reservoir south of Red Cliff – are used for snowmaking and to repay a “water debt.” A flow of a cubic foot per-second is enough water – 2 acre-feet – over a 24-hour period to cover two football fields a foot deep. It’s also considered to be enough water for two families of four for a year.Those releases of water boosted the overall flow of the river nearly 10 percent at Minturn to 86 cubic feet per-second Thursday. By comparison the flow below the Avon wastewater treatment plant, which is below the diversion points, was 52. Water is typically released into the Eagle River from reservoirs from late November through March.
Vail Resorts needs the water – up to 1,020 acre-feet – to make snow on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, said Dennis Gelvin, general manger of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which provides water to 22,000 users in the eastern half of Eagle County. That water, owned by the ski company, is pumped from the Eagle River at Dowd Junction for Vail Mountain, and at Avon for the slopes on Beaver Creek.Flush-throughThe water debt arises from two sources. Approximately 5 percent of water used in homes does not return to the river through area wastewater plants, and the state requires it be replaced, Gelvin said.
That water debt for the eastern half of the county is estimated at 260 acre-feet, Gelvin said.The second water debt comes from year-round use of seasonal agricultural water rights. The agricultural water is used year-round when developers purchase agricultural lands for development and the agricultural water rights from that land are then converted from seasonal use to year-round use by residents of the new development. That “out-of-priority” use of water requires a repayment of water to the river. That total is estimated to be an additional 65 acre-feet per year.This summer, the 2,200 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir did not fill completely with runoff, Gelvin said. It missed filling by 40 cubic feet, and was filled using water owned by the water districts that was pumped from the Arkansas Well on the east side of the Continental Divide near Fremont Pass, he said. The water district also owns 1,000 acre-feet of water stored in Homestake Reservoir.
After Jan. 1 the flow from both Homestake and Eagle Park will be scaled back to 2 cubic feet per-second , Gelvin said. Eagle Park releases will cease March 15, considered the beginning of spring runoff when snowmelt begins filling streams.Starting next month, 2 cubic feet per-second of water will be released from the Black Lakes reservoirs atop Vail Pass. That water, too, will be used for snowmaking and to augment the flow of Gore Creek. That release of water will cease March 15.A dry December has resulted in snowpack on area mountains that is ranging between 80 and 90 percent of average.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.