Water swap benefits valley | VailDaily.com

Water swap benefits valley

Cliff Thompson
Teva X-Paddle2 SM 6-4 Vail Daily/Shane Macomber In less glamorous times than the wild races in the Teva Mountain Games, the Homestake Reservoir and its tributaries, shown above, are at the center of complicated water deals between the mountains and Front Range cities.

Front Range and Western Slope water providers who in the past have been bitter adversaries have agreed to swap 500 acre-feet of water to the benefit of both regions.The agreement, announced Thursday in Denver, is the first of several expected quid pro quo water-sharing agreements between Front Range cities and Western Slope water agencies. The cooperative ventures stem from the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, a water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs, Aurora and water users in Eagle County. Both will jointly develop and share water here.Under the latest agreement water users here will get 500 acre-feet stored high in the Eagle River watershed and the city will get water from the Flat Tops Ranch near Toponas, which was recently acquired by the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. Aurora can exchange that for water stored elsewhere that will be easier to pump to the Front Range.

The water stored in Homestake Reservoir can be released for use any time water users here need it. They include the Eagle Park Reservoir company and its participants – the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Vail Associates and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.The reaffirmation of the cooperation comes as Aurora is weighing plans to extract water from an aquifer beneath Camp Hale and users in Eagle County want to tap additional sources of water near the Continental Divide at Climax, to fill Eagle Park Reservoir east of Camp Hale.Aurora and Colorado Springs co-own the 45,000 acre-foot Homestake Reservoir, 12 miles southwest of Red Cliff. An acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field a foot deep and is considered to be enough water for a family of four for a year. Four years ago a similar, almost identical water agreement over an additional 500 acre-feet stored in Homestake Reservoir was struck between the parties, but with less publicity.

“It really works for both parties,” said water attorney Glenn Porzak, one of the architects of the agreement “It’s a significant addition. It plays on the success of the current arrangement.”It’s the second time Eagle County has received 500 acre-feet stored in Homestake. When combined with the 2,000 acre-feet stored in Eagle Park, and the 300 acre-feet in Black Lakes atop Vail Pass, it brings Eagle County’s stored water total to 3,300 acre-feet. How much is used depends on how dry it is.In the mid-1980s Eagle County and Colorado Springs and Aurora were in a decade-long legal donnybrook over the cities’ plan to take an additional 21,000 acre-feet from the headwaters of the Eagle River and store it in Homestake Reservoir. The county won the protracted battle and by 1998 the end result was the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding.

The cities have filed numerous water rights in Eagle County since the 1950s and the cooperative approach to water development reduces the chances of a costly legal battle.Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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