Water deal’s seeds planted in Beaver Creek
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – A deal between Denver Water and the Western Slope may have been hatched in Grand County Thursday, but the incubation started in a Beaver Creek conference room in 2004.That first meeting, pulled together by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, the Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Vail Resorts and other local water users and providers, resulted in the framework of the agreement announced Thursday between Denver water and more than 30 Western Slope water districts and agencies.Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak, who has long represented local water agencies, has a lot of experience in the battles between Front Range and Western Slope water interests. Porzak said what came out of that meeting had never happened before – for the first time, Denver Water was going to negotiate with a unified group, and not just individual communities or agencies.While a summary of the deal released Thursday doesn’t seem to have much for Eagle County residents, Porzak said the process that started in Beaver Creek has some important ramifications for people who live in the Eagle River basin.Thanks to a 2007 case that was settled out of court, Denver Water gave up most of its water rights in the Eagle River basin. Those water rights could have potentially affected flows in the Eagle River, Gore Creek and other up-valley streams to fill a proposed reservoir in Wolcott.Thanks to that settlement, there’s still a chance that a reservoir could be built at Wolcott, but not without the approval of local water districts and Eagle County.”That set a huge precedent – it’s what people have worked for for decades,” Porzak said.Another part of the agreement is a guarantee of enough water in local streams in the fall and early winter to make snow. Porzak said the agreement affects Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Winter Park.The agreement also formalizes an agreement first forged in 2008 to keep water flowing to the Shoshone power plant in Glenwood Canyon. That water right is one of the most senior on the river, and under Colorado water law, those who hold the most senior water rights have priority as water is divided up, especially in dry years.All that water flows through Eagle County, of course, and some of it is occasionally released from the Wolford Mountain, Green Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs in Summit and Grand counties. Those reservoirs all store water for Denver Water, and once it’s released down the Colorado River, the Front Range can’t use it.If the power plant isn’t able to use all its allocated water – and it wasn’t in 2008 when one of the plant’s turbines failed – that water can either be sent down the river, or, in Shoshone’s case, kept in reservoirs for use on the other side of the Continental Divide. That summer, Front Range water interests agreed to keep the water flowing, something that’s been made official in the new agreement.Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney said that agreement to keep water flowing to Shoshone is important for habitat and recreation on the river through the county.But Porzak said the real benefits from the deal started in Beaver Creek seven years ago.
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