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Resort plans need more water supply

Cliff Thompson

MINTURN – The annexation by Minturn of 5,400 acres surrounding the Gilman ghost town would be a quid pro quo – trading this for that. Resort developer Bobby Ginn needs the water and municipal services Minturn’s 1,100 residents can provide. Minturn’s town government badly needs an infusion of cash that can be provided by Ginn’s as-yet unnamed development that will just about triple the number of homes in town. One of the things Minturn, a former railroad and mining town, needs is a new water treatment plant. The town’s 50-year-old plant is adequate for current needs but not much more, the town council said in discussions earlier in the year.Most governmental entities require developers building residential and commercial properties to acquire water for their development before the project is approved. Many, including Minturn, also accept cash in lieu of water, which the town will then supply.Depending on the time of year, Minturn could be considered water-rich. It has a senior water right that was established in 1912 on Cross Creek, a tributary to the Eagle River, said Minturn’s water attorney, Ann Castle of Denver-based Holland and Hart. That right allows the town up to 7 cubic feet per-second, or 14 acre-feet per day, for municipal use, she said. But that use is restricted in winter to 2.4 cubic feet per-second under the terms of a 1998 legal settlement over Minturn’s “excess” water.Based on the preliminary discussions, water attorneys estimate Ginn’s development will need upwards of 150 acre-feet of water for the residences plus an additional 100 acre-feet to 150 acre-feet to irrigate the golf course and more to restore river flows depleted by water use. It is not yet known if the private ski hill will require snowmaking. Most of the trails will be at 9,500 feet and higher, where natural snow falls early and stays late.Water has been commanding as much as $15,000 an acre-foot in the eastern half of Eagle CountyExpired rights?Minturn could store up to 320 acre-feet of water in Bolts Lake south of town. That’s enough water per year for 1,280 people and would create a lake twice the size of Avon’s Nottingham Lake.The dry lake could be filled with water from Cross Creek. While it can be expanded some, it can’t be enlarged much beyond the 320 acre-feet because it would flood nearby wetlands, said Ann Castle, Minturn’s water attorney.The lake was ordered drained by the state in the early ’90s because the dam was not structurally sound. “It could be enlarged fairly easily,” Castle said.The town also uses some wells in the Cross Creek area to supply residents when winter ice interferes with its surface water supply, Castle said.During initial discussions with Minturn, Ginn said he’d like to enlarge Bolt’s Lake and use it as a water supply for his development. The dirt excavated to enlarge the lake would be used to reshape the adjacent land for his golf course. A portion of Ginn’s land is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund area that had been covered by minerals-laden rock from the mine. The rock was removed and placed into a huge, consolidated pile capped with earth that is just north of Bolt’s Lake.When Ginn bought the land, he also purchased 11 industrial, irrigation and storage water rights from the abandoned Eagle Mine and surrounding land that bear appropriation dates ranging from 1882 to 1972, according to records from the District Water Engineer’s office.Because the water rights Ginn’s company acquired in December haven’t been used for nearly 15 years, they may not have much “wet” water left in them, water attorneys said. Sorting all that out will take time – maybe as long as two years, attorneys said. How wet? Nothing involving water in Colorado is as simple as it appears on paper. Because of a “use it or lose it” provision in Colorado water law, if a water right isn’t used for a number of years the user can lose the right to use it. There is some question about the validity of the Ginn’s water rights, because they haven’t been used since the mine closed 21 years ago, water attorneys said.”The mere passage of time raises the question of whether a right is valid or not,” said Gary Greer, a veteran water attorney with Denver-based Sherman & Howard. A water right’s value is determined by how much water has historically been consumed so the rights for the mine may not have much “wet” water, water attorneys said.


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