What happened to Minturn’s water?
MINTURN – Plenty of hard feelings remain over a 1998 water battle between Minturn and a consortium of water users in Eastern Eagle County.The conventional wisdom holds that either the consortium – consisting of Vail Resorts, Eagle River Water and Sanitation and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority – made a water grab of Minturn’s 7 cubic feet of water on Cross Creek (an Eagle River tributary) or that Minturn was about to sell a portion of that water and ship it to the Front Range. Fact and fiction have blurred into a good vs. bad, big vs. small battle of victim and vanquished, but neither is accurate. And agreement on water issues is rare.A legal dispute between the town and consortium did occur and it very nearly did bankrupt Minturn. It was settled out of court with a lengthy list of agreements that have some bearing on present events. Whiskey’s for drinkingFormer Minturn Mayor Earle Bidez, has written a letter to the editor of this paper to clear the air about water. He was a town councilman during the legal battle, and tells the story this way in his letter:”Back in the ’80s the town manager had shopped the idea of selling water rights. However, nothing was pursued and Minturn, before the lawsuit was filed, had assured the Vail Consortium that it would guarantee that Minturn would not sell their (sic) water rights at any time. The issue was that Minturn’s water rights were senior to the Consortium’s and were not subject to minimum streamflow requirements as theirs were.”Bidez continued: “Back in the ’70s the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District asked Minturn to join, giving the district a much-needed customer base to secure the construction of the Avon treatment plant. The end result was that instead of putting the water in the stream north of town it happened in Avon, thus causing a minimum streamflow problem for the consortium in the length of the river between. That was the main issue.”Water’s for fightingThe consortium was represented by Glenn Porzak, a water lawyer who didn’t entirely agree with Bidez’s story. Porzak said the suit came after Dick Dangler, Minturn’s town manager at the time, walked into Porzak’s Boulder office and threatened to sell the water to a transmountain diverter if the consortium didn’t purchase the water.”We sat down with them for more than a year trying to work things out,” Porzak said. “It was only after that that we filed a pre-emptive suit.”The consortium was in the midst of building the $12 million Eagle Park Reservoir – which holds water for snowmaking and other uses – and if Minturn sold 5 cubic feet per-second of water to be sent to the Front Range, there would have been no advantage to having water released from the reservoir, Porzak said.”Basically you would lose out of a water right with no historic use the same amount you would be generating from Eagle Park,” Porzak said. “That kind of crystallized things in the minds of the consortium members.”The minimum-streamflow point is moot, Porzak said, because Minturn’s senior water right is trumped by the Shoshone Dam in Glenwood Canyon. Peace pipesBut this may soon all be proverbial water under the bridge.The former litigants now want to build a sewer plant together to handle increased sewer demand from up to 1,700 residences a developer wants to build along with a private ski hill and golf course south of Minturn.If that sewer plant is built, the Minturn would recoup most of the water it lost in its settlement with the consortium, because the return flow of the plant would return the town’s treated water to the river upstream of the consortium’s water right at Dowd Junction. Ninety-five percent of domestic water used can be returned to streams as treated wastewater, water experts say. Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.com.Vail, Colo.