Wolcott reservoir won’t come soon | VailDaily.com

Wolcott reservoir won’t come soon

Scott N. Miller

WOLCOTT – The pastures just to the north will probably determine what happens to Wolcott, and the Eagle River, in the coming decades.Those pastures, now mostly occupied by 4Eagle Ranch, are the bottom of a potential reservoir. Water rights for that reservoir are already owned by Denver Water, the agency that provides water to Denver and many of its surrounding suburbs.

Denver Water started buying Western Slope water rights more than 50 years ago. And, given the growth of the Denver metropolitan area, the water agency intends to put those water rights to use.”The fact is we’re going to squeeze every last drop we can from these sources,” Dave Little of Denver Water said. “The population is exploding in the state, and there’s a need for more water.”Just how big a Wolcott reservoir would be, when it might be built, and who will to build it are questions a group of area water officials have been hashing out for years now. Remember how long it took to erode away the Grand Canyon? Planning, then building a new reservoir takes almost as long.”Within two to five years we’ll know if we can get a coalition together to build a reservoir,” Little said. “We would hope that we could do a cooperative project.”Cooperation, in this case, would be between Denver and at least a couple of local interests, probably the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and, perhaps, the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District.

That district works to develop water rights in the Colorado River basin, and helps communities and other water districts do the same. It has the power to appropriate water and take water issues to court.The local and regional water districts don’t have the muscle Denver Water does, but they can put up a fight.When Front Range communities first started buying water rights from the sparsely populated Western Slope, then shipping that water to thirsty and growing cities to the east, legal fights were almost always won by the Front Range. Dams were built, fields and canyons were flooded, tunnels were dug and pipelines were laid.”The fact of the matter today is that nothing happens without local consensus,” said Dave Merritt of the Colorado River Water Conservation DistrictThat’s why the size of a reservoir at Wolcott remains an open question.Both Denver Water and local interests are each taking two paths regarding the Wolcott reservoir.One of those paths is a cooperative effort to build a reservoir that could provide water for the Denver, the Vail Valley and the recreation industry. The other path is a court fight in which Denver could either lose its water rights or gain the ability to build a reservoir bigger than Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs combined.”That would suck the Eagle dry and we’d get nothing,” said Glenn Porzak, an attorney for the Upper Eagle Water Authority.In what would be the worst-case scenario for local interests, water from the Eagle would be pumped into Wolcott Reservoir, then piped over Vail Pass and into Dillon Reservoir, Porzak said.”We’re saying no way to that,” he said.The Upper Eagle Water Authority is going to state water court in June in an attempt to limit or eliminate some of Denver’s water rights along the river. Denver Water could be forced to build a smaller reservoir if the court determines it hasn’t maintained its water rights over the years.Porzak said local interests would prefer something at Wolcott more the size of Homestake Reservoir.Porzak, Little, and Merritt all said they favor a cooperative approach that would provide water to Denver and the Vail Valley. But that’s going to be hard.”The easiest thing is to fight,” Little said. “The hardest thing is to come to a good agreement.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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