Yampa water tapped for Eagle River users | VailDaily.com

Yampa water tapped for Eagle River users

Cliff Thompson
Glenn Porzak, water attorney

Sometime during irrigation season in 2005, one of the pieces of the water-supply puzzle for the eastern half of Eagle County will flow into place.

It’s part of a $5 million-plus, 1,250 acre-foot purchase of Yampa River water from five ranches in Routt County near Toponas that can be used to supplement flow of water in the Colorado River, which in turn can be exchanged for water stored in Homestake Reservoir and elsewhere in the Colorado River basin. An acre-foot can cover a football field a foot deep.

For Eagle County water users served by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, this new source of “imported water” will provide another water supply cushion against a dry year. County water users were forced to curtail water use during the depth of the drought of 2002, the worst drought in nearly 300 years. The reason was a lack of water stored in reservoirs that could be released to bolster river flows in dry years.

Under Colorado’s priority water diversion system, those filing water rights first have priority. When river flows decline to the point where they begin to reduce flows to senior water users, holders of junior water rights have to curtail water use when river flows decline – as they did last year – to where only senior-most users are allowed to divert. With additional stored water, releases can be made to prop up the flow of the river, allowing junior water rights holders to use the water.

“We will be able to convert downstream water into upstream storage,” said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who helped forge the deal.

Porzak said the imported water will enter the Colorado River as a senior water right because it is new water, imported from another source. The trans-basin diversion is possible because the ranches lie at the hydrologic divide between tributaries of the Yampa and Colorado rivers. Water can flow through the diversion ditches from the Yampa into Egeria Creek, a tributary of the Colorado.

There are also several storage basins on the ranches capable of holding up to 900 acre-feet that can be used to capture “used” flood irrigation water. That tail water- or excess irrigation water – has already flooded irrigated lands, and amounts to approximately 40 percent of what is diverted from rivers and streams. It can be stored on site in several existing reservoirs for release into the Colorado River later in the year and then exchanged on a one-for-one basis.

The contract also requires a curtailment of irrigation in dry years, to ensure the full 1,250 acre-feet will be available.

The local water districts will be able to exchange the water from the Yampa River for up to 900 acre-feet of reservoir storage in the Colorado River basin. The Eagle River is tributary to the Colorado.

The new source of water is a sizable portion of the 4,000 acre-feet of water the water districts project they need to meet the needs of their clients through 2013. More water will come from expanding existing reservoirs, such as Black Lakes atop Vail Pass and Eagle Park, east of Camp Hale, and from developing joint water projects with Front Range entities with water rights in Eagle County.

The purchase of the water will need to be accepted by Colorado’s Water Court and that’s expected to take at least 18 months.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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