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Ski towns deal with suburbs’ thirst

Allen Best
Preston Utley/Vail DailyJon Redman of the Center Greenhouse waters flowers Wednesday in Eagle-Vail.
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CRESTED BUTTE – One of the interior dramas of Colorado touching ski towns from Winter Park to Crested Butte is how Denver’s burgeoning southern suburbs will find more sustainable water supplies.These suburbs are located between Denver and Colorado Springs, mostly in Douglas and Arapahoe counties. A headquarters for a variety of high-tech, cable and communications companies, the area is a statistical wunderkind – the fastest growing county in the United States during the 1990s, Douglas County has among the best educated, most affluent and reliably Republican populations in the West.

But this fountain of wealth is mostly premised on underground aquifers that are steadily, falling. Already, many wells have to be drilled deeper every year to ensure water.By nearly all accounts, these new and shiny patches of city must figure out new sources of water that rely on snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. The big question is whether that means buying farms for water that originates as melting snow or somehow tapping the remaining water that flows out of Colorado toward California.Not much water remains in the headwaters streams. To get substantial quantities of unclaimed water means going to Steamboat Springs or even Grand Junction. Still, cities are trying to first grab what little water remains along the Continental Divide, because it is closer and of higher quality.

To that end, Denver is trying to expand its diversions from the Winter Park area, where the Fraser River is a mere trickle of what it once was. Expanded diversions are also envisioned at Dillon Reservoir and from the headwaters of the Eagle River.Moving south, plans are afoot to take more water from the Roaring Fork River and tributaries in the Aspen area. And finally, one more watershed south, there is renewed talk of water from the Taylor Park area near Crested Butte. However, Steve Glaser, Crested Butte’s resident water expert, dismisses this project, called Union Park, as a “phantom.” That doesn’t stop proponents from wanting to meet with local officials to talk about their proposed 474-foot-high dam, which would create the largest reservoir in Colorado. For now, local officials are saying no, partly because they are involved in litigation on the matter.



In Colorado, rivers west of the Continental Divide generate 87 percent of the state’s total water. But 89 percent of the state’s population and 72 percent of its irrigated farming are found east of the Continental Divide.Vail, Colorado


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