Water discrimination charged | VailDaily.com

Water discrimination charged

Cliff Thompson

When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation limited the water available in Green Mountain Reservoir north of Dillon during last summer’s drought it allegedly did so to the detriment of Western Slope water users.

The expected lawsuit was filed Thursday in Federal District Court.

A consortium of Western Slope water users is seeking 20,000 acre-feet from the Bureau of Reclamation and also seeks to change the policies the agency follows regarding releases of Summit County’s Green Mountain Reservoir water.

“We’re not looking for money. We’re looking for the the water we’re owed,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District Spokesman Peter Roessman. “Last year there was a 20,000 acre-foot hit imposed entirely on the Western Slope.”

An acre-foot is enough water to fill a football field to the depth of a foot.

The Conservation District represents 15 Western Slope counties, including Eagle. Joining the Conservation District in the complaint are the Grand Valley Water Users Association, Grand Valley Irrigation Company, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Middle Park Water Conservancy District.

The Bureau of Reclamation declined comment until they have had time to study the suit, a spokesman said.

The consortium is charging the federal agency is illegally denying the Western Slope its full entitlement of water from Green Mountain Reservoir while “fully protecting” Eastern Slope water interests.

But it’s not a simple issue because it hinges on a landslide below the tiny hamlet of Heeney that could be triggered by lowering the 152,000-acre-foot reservoir.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s solution was to limit releases to keep the level of the reservoir to where water pressure keeps the slide in place.

The Conservation District was hurriedly able to arrange a substitute source, Reudi Reservoir – east of Basalt – to make up the deficit. Had that plan failed, dozens of Eagle County water users – from Cordillera to Vail Resorts as well as individual homeowners – would have been forced to curtail water usage.

Green Mountain Reservoir was constructed as a compromise between Colorado’s Western Slope and water diverters from the East Slope. It’s purpose is to provide compensatory storage for the extraction of water to the Eastern Slope via the Colorado/Big Thompson project that supplies 250,000 acre-feet of water to northeastern Colorado.

Green Mountain Reservoir is divided into two pools: one is a 100,000-acre-foot “compensatory pool” to augment flows lowered by diversions of the Colorado/Big Thompson project; and the second is a “replacement pool” to insulate Western Slope water users from the removal of water from the Colorado River headwaters.

The Bureau of Reclamation, the suit alleges, did not deliver the full amount of water under contract with Western Slope water users. The Bureau of Reclamation is imposing flow restrictions this year to keep reservoir levels high enough to support the landslide.-

The Conservation District is a state-chartered agency designated to protect the water resources of the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River District is comprised of 15 West Slope counties, including Mesa, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Grand, Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Delta and portions of Montrose, Sagauche and Hinsdale counties.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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