Hopefully by now you have a pretty good idea of the squeeze Eagle County is facing because of demands for our water from the East Slope cities ( Denver, Colorado Springs, etc.) and the lower basin states (California, Arizona, Nevada, etc.). You should also have some sense of the options available for supplying water to our growing communities.
Let’s look closer at the Wolcott Reservoir in this light. Water would be pumped out of the Eagle River into the Wolcott Reservoir during high-water periods. This water would be released back into the Eagle River at low-water periods to satisfy senior downstream rights. This would allow communities in Eagle County to pull water out of the Eagle for domestic uses. It would allow Denver to move more water east from the Dillon Reservoir and other diversion points.
The Wolcott Reservoir would accommodate water sports; boating, jet skiing, water skiing, fishing, etc. The reservoir would fluctuate but probably be reasonably full in July and part of August in an average moisture year. By September, mud flats would probably prevail. The land around the reservoir would be prime for residential development. Water releases from the dam, particularly if the water was released from the bottom of the reservoir, would create what is called a tail water fishery on the lower Eagle. This would provide some excellent trout fishing. The kayaking, and perhaps the rafting, season would also be extended on the lower Eagle. This stretch of river is not the best kayaking water, but it’s OK for intermediates.
If you want to get a sense of what the Wolcott Reservoir might be like, visit the Harvey and Rifle Gap reservoirs. Several years back Harvey Gap was a prime destination for wind surfers from both Aspen and Vail. One reason for this was that the water was warmer than in higher lakes. In recent years, these reservoirs have become mostly mud flats. This is probably what will eventually happen to Wolcott as Denver pulls more water off the top to augment senior rights claims sooner down stream. This is why I think Wolcott is only a temporary fix.
If I were a commissioner when Wolcott come up for a vote I would vote against it, but I would be just one vote. If it is to happen I think two certain demands should be made.
One, enforceable minimum stream flows should be established on the ColoradoRiver between Kremmling and Dotsero.
Two, the Piney River should be given a federal wild and scenic river status so that Denver doesn’t end up pumping it into Wolcott. They have rights on the Piney but it should not be diverted, it should be a protected part of the Eagles Nest Wilderness. It’s a beautiful pristine river.
Now let’s look at more imaginative solutions and here I admit to a bit of dreaming.
Half of Colorado’s west slope water has to go to California. Given this fact, why can’t a plan be designed that protects our instream flows with that water? Do Denver and the other east slope cities have to take the entire other half so that there is nothing in the stream left for us?
That’s the illogical conclusion of all this unless we get our priorities straight and stop further transmountain diversions. So we need a big plan that recognizes the threat and the value of our rivers and streams for recreational and esthetic reasons. Until that plan is in place we shouldn’t let another drop of west flowing water go east.
The water law says “first in time is first in right, and use it or lose it.” The law used to say “the water had to be removed from the stream to be put to beneficial use” but that was changed by Senate Bill 97, the Minimum Stream Flow law and later RICD’s the recreation use law. Now water can be claimed in the stream. If “first in time is first in right” then the instream environmental use predates other uses by thousands of years.
My question is why isn’t it the senior right? If it was our streams and rivers would be safe. We are only talking about minimum stream flows here, not all the water. This is a contrversial view, but perhaps the only realistic solution in the long term to saving our rivers.
Subject open for discussion.
Editor’s note: The writer is running for Eagle County commissioner.
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