Wolcott Reservoirforging ahead | VailDaily.com

Wolcott Reservoirforging ahead

Cliff Thompson

The proposed Wolcott Reservoir has been given a resounding green light by a consultant hired to gauge the feasibility of the project.It’s an example of the increasing cooperation of Eastern and Western Slope water users who are working together more and more instead of battling water matters out in court.Now the proponents – who include Eagle County water users, members of the Denver Water Board, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy, the Colorado Water Conservancy District and the city of Aurora – want to proceed. They jointly funded a $100,000 study for the reservoir.The reservoir will hold between 50,000 acre-feet to 105,000 acre-feet of water and is expected to cost up to $320 million. It will be formed by a dam built immediately north of Interstate 70 and west of Highway 131 and will flood the valley north of the interstate where the 4-Eagle Ranch lies. When full, Dillon Reservoir in Summit County is 260,000 acre-feet in size. An acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field a foot deep and is enough water for a family of four for a year.Eighty percent of the water will be pumped from the Eagle River and released in the summer and fall. The remaining 20 percent will come from Alkali Creek, which would drain into the reservoir.For a water project, it’s on a fast track, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney. He said it could be built in five to 10 years. Adding urgency to the efforts is a requirement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that 10,825 acre-feet of water will be needed in the autumn to support spawning habitat for endangered fish in the Colorado River. That water could be created by the Wolcott Reservoir.Porzak said the participants will begin taking their proposal on the road to garner the support of other potential partners in the project, including the state and some environmental groups. The latter could acquire water in the reservoir for environmental uses.One of the key issues that needs to be resolved pits the protection of one threatened species – the fish in the Colorado River – against another, the sage grouse. The area where the reservoir is proposed has been habitat for the chicken-sized bird. The Wildlife Service is studying the status of the bird to see if it should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.A second issue is water quality problems that could be created by removing water from the Eagle River in the spring and releasing it in the summer and fall.”Nobody is saying this project isn’t feasible,” he said. “Now we have to see if it is politically feasible.The project is the fulcrum around which the Denver Water Board may join the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding. This is a water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs, Aurora and Eagle county water users to jointly develop and share water projects.If Denver joins, it will abandon 260,000 acre-feet of water rights is has in the Colorado and Piney river drainages in return for the proceeds from the proposed Wolcott Reservoir. Denver would exchange the water in Wolcott so it could pump more from Lake Dillon and elsewhere through the Roberts Tunnel to the Front Range.One of the things the participants will be studying is the feasibility of building a small hydroelectric generating plant at the dam to defray the pumping costs. Porzak said preliminary estimates indicate up to 50 percent of the pumping costs could be paid by the power generated by the plant.If the reservoir is built, it will be the first since the 66,000 acre-foot Wolford Mountain was built in 1994 at a cost of $43 million.Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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