Wolcott reservoir idea to be studied | VailDaily.com

Wolcott reservoir idea to be studied

Matt Zalaznick

Wolcott may be the future site of a reservoir that could supply both sides of the Continental Divide with water and become a recreation spot similar to Lake Dillon in Summit County.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District announced Wednesday it will study the feasibility of building a reservoir north of Wolcott on the 4-Eagle Ranch. The River District’s board unanimously approved participating in a joint six-month study to determine potential uses, partners, cost and the water quality of a Wolcott reservoir that could provide water to the Eastern Slope and Western Slope.

“If this is successful, the Eagle basin would have near certainty regarding its water future,” said Chris Treese, with the River District. “It’s also significant because it’s how we’re going to develop water in the future.”

The Denver Water Board, which owns the 4-Eagle Ranch, retains substantial underdeveloped water rights in the Eagle River basin. Local agencies, governments and residents have long been worried about the harm of Denver and other Front Range cities taking water out of the valley.

The River District and Eagle River water users already have an agreement with other Front Range water utilities to limit future water diversions.

“That left Denver as the 800-pound gorilla and still an unknown,” Treese said. “Until we could in some way either corral that gorilla or bring the gorilla into the tent, we really hadn’t accomplished all that much.

“What this means is if there is some way to work with Denver water to jointly develop benefits from a reservoir near Wolcott, then Denver water would work within the same agreement.”

An important aspect of a future Wolcott reservoir would be the voluntary surrender of Denver’s remaining water rights in the Eagle River basin, Treese said.

“I think we’re going to develop water jointly with local support and this is what this seeks to do,” Treese said.

Denver originally planned a 350,000-acre-foot reservoir near Wolcott, which represents a reservoir roughly 50 percent larger than Denver’s Dillon Reservoir. The study will examine a reservoir in the 60,000- to 100,000-acre-foot size.

Other participants in the joint feasibility study are a consortium of Vail Valley water users, Denver and the city of Aurora. The Vail Consortium includes the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts.

“There’s a tremendous spirit of cooperation now between East Slope and Western Slope users of Colorado River water,” said Rick Sackbauer, chairman of Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “What’s exciting about this is that the Western Slope is taking the lead in resolving Western Slope issues.”

These same groups, along with the River District, would be among the likely sponsors of Wolcott Reservoir, depending on the results of the feasibility study.

A big concern is the quality of water in the proposed Wolcott reservoir, Treese said. Some of the creeks that would spill into the lake have a high salt content, he said.

Aside from the water quality concerns, which Treese said will be aggressively analyzed, a Wolcott reservoir has tremendous potential in other areas, he added.

“It’s a place with great recreation potential,” he said. “It’s a place that can provide water use for the West Slope, including the Eagle basin.”

The Colorado River Water Conservation District is responsible for the protection and development of the water resources within its 15-county district covering northwest and west central Colorado.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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