Restoring the Eagle River in Camp Hale — The Mountain Town News

In 1942, a new channel for the Eagle River was built at Camp Hale to replacing the naturally meandering route. Photo/Denver Public Library Western History Department via The Mountain Town News.
In 1942, a new channel for the Eagle River was built at Camp Hale to replacing the naturally meandering route. Photo/Denver Public Library Western History Department via The Mountain Town News.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

A vision gains support for freeing Eagle River from WWII straitjacket

Work could begin in 2018 in restoring the Eagle River at Camp Hale, the training site for the 10th Mountain Division, to something more closely resembling its pre-World War II look and functions.

Photos of the valley by William Henry Jackson, the famous landscape photographer of the 19th century, show a meandering river through the valley, called Eagle Park, clogged with willows and wetlands. A steam train chugged through the valley and later, at a railroad siding called Pando, ice was harvested.

All this changed in 1942. The U.S. Army first considered a site near Yellowstone National Park and other options before settling on the valley, elevation 9,200 feet, for training of elite troops capable of engaging enemy soldiers in mountainous terrain. Access to a transcontinental railroad was key. Within a few months, streets had been created, barracks erected, and the river confined to a straight-as-an-arrow ditch.

Photo via The Mountain Town News.
Photo via The Mountain Town News.

Now, 74 years later, it’s still in that same ditch.

After the 10th Mountain soldiers were dispatched in 1944 to Texas for toughening up, the Army began dismantling Camp Hale. Barracks and other buildings were leveled, including the auditorium where visiting dignitaries such as prize- winning fighter Joe Louis and actress Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, appeared. The camp was used once more from 1959 to 1965, this time by the Central Intelligence Agency for training of Tibetan guerrillas, before the military reservation was returned to the U.S. Forest Service.

But even now, cleanup from the war efforts continues. In 1997, an unexploded mortar shell was discovered on Mt. Whitney, in the nearby Homestake Valley. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later tried to recover all old weapons of war from the landscape,
returning again this summer for a final sweep using metal detectors. There’s some lingering asbestos. And there’s the ditch called the Eagle River.

Many stakeholders in Camp Hale

Talk about restoring the river has occurred several times since the 1970s, says Marcus F. Selig, of the National Forest Foundation, a non-profit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, but never made significant progress. The new effort began in 2013, when 40 groups with a direct interest in the valley were gathered to work toward a coherent vision for a restored landscape.

While adjoining streets and buildings were quickly removed, the Eagle River today flows in a ditch created at Camp Hale in 1942. Photo credit Allen Best The Mountain Town News.
While adjoining streets and buildings were quickly removed, the Eagle River today flows in a ditch created at Camp Hale in 1942. Photo credit Allen Best The Mountain Town News.

The Aspen-based 10th Mountain Division Hut Association has several huts in the area. Meeker residents Sam and Cheri Robinson have grazed thousands of sheep every summer in the mountains above Camp Hale. The dwindling number of 10th Mountain vets and now their descendants want the legacy of their war training remembered.

Stakeholders agreed that what exists now is “not a healthy aquatic ecosystem,” says Selig, the vice president of programs for the National Forest Foundation.

What has emerged is a plan that would create five to seven miles of a meandering, ox-bowed Eagle River in the valley bottom as it winds around to the east, from the Climax Mine. The work would also create 200 acres of wetlands. The dirt moving would create a 300-foot-wide flood plain or riparian area.

A related but somewhat separate effort involves creating an even stronger historical presence. A pullout along Highway 24 has exhibits, but the 10th Mountain has enough of a compelling story to justify a book. In fact, about 10 of them have been written, along with films and other remembrances.

In Italy, the 10th Mountain engaged in fierce fighting in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. Among the veterans were Fritz Benedict, the architect who was an integral part of the post-World War II revitalization of Aspen, and Pete Seibert, who also spent several years in Aspen during its early incarnation as a ski town before eventually creating Vail. The two are just the tip of the ski history iceberg involving Camp Hale.

Then there are side-stories. Camp Hale was also used to hold prisoners of war, in particular those of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps. For mystifying reasons, the Army also stationed German sympathizers deemed too risky to become front-line soldiers next to the POW camp.

One of them included a brilliant Harvard- trained philologist, Dale Maple, who engineered an escape with two POWs. As told in a New Yorker story, they made it as a far as Mexico before being apprehended.

What it will take

What will it take to get the Eagle River out of its straitjacket? Money, obviously. The cost has been estimated at $10 to $20 million. The plan also needs Forest Service approval. The proposal is currently being reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act process.

“It’s not happening anytime soon,” says Selig, of dirt-moving. “It’s a multi-year project. In the best-case scenario we would start work in 2018.”

One possibility is that wetlands created at Eagle Park could be used to offset wetlands destroyed elsewhere, such as by creation of a reservoir. One such reservoir is among the options on nearby Homestake Creek being studied by two Front Range cities and their Western Slope partners. Such in- lieu payments would provide money.

Another possibility is if Camp Hale gets federal designation as a national historic landscape. The idea was proffered by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Memorial Day. No such designation classification now exists. It would literally take an act of Congress. But there is some speculation that a designation could also produce money for river restoration along with historical preservation.

Plans for Camp Hale call for a loosening of the Eagle River into a setting resembling what existed prior to 1942. Graphic via The Mountain Town News.
Plans for Camp Hale call for a loosening of the Eagle River into a setting resembling what existed prior to 1942. Graphic via The Mountain Town News.

“That would be wonderful,” says Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross District of the Forest Service, of the idea of federal funding. However, he also reports he has seen nothing in writing.

Mayville reports that the Army Corps of Engineers this year, in addition to trying to find old bullets and perhaps mortars with a metal detector, has been working to clean up asbestos. “They used asbestos building materials at just about every building out there,” he says. He says the final work on asbestos removal will occur this fall.

Whatever happens in the future, says Mayville, the plans must honor the reality that there have been both multiple historic and current users. “It’s a very complex piece of ground,” he says.

Selig says the National Forest Foundation’s plan recognizes these different histories and the multiplicity of current stakeholders. “We are not doing full ecological restoration. We not putting it back to exactly what it was. We are not leaving all history untouched,” he says. It is a “vision built on compromise.”

This story was originally published in the Aspen (Colo.) Daily News on Sept. 25.

Wildfire is top threat to Gypsum’s drinking water — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Town of Gypsum via Vail.net
Town of Gypsum via Vail.net

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Pam Boyd):

…a new report prepared by the Colorado Rural Water Association for the town of Gypsum has reminded the community that wildfire impact is the top risk identified for its drinking water system.

Source water specialist Paul Hempel prepared the report for the town.

“People don’t ever think about water safety, really. Water just comes out of the tap,” said Hempel.

But water does come from somewhere, and ensuring the safety of their water sources is a prime concern for municipal providers. Source water assessment and protection came into existence in 1996 as a result of Congressional amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The amendments required each state to develop a source water assessment and protection program. In Colorado, the Water Quality Control Division, an agency of the state Department of Public Health and Environment, assumed the responsibility for conducting the program.

The effort includes four parts:

• Delineating the source water assessment area for each of the drinking water sources.

• Conducting a contaminant source inventory to identify potential sources of contamination within each of the source water assessment areas.

• Conducting a susceptibility analysis to determine the potential susceptibility of each public drinking water source to the different sources of contamination.

• Reporting the results of the source water assessment to the public water systems and the general public.

GYPSUM’S THREATS

Gypsum obtains its drinking water from one intake on Mosher Spring and two intakes on Gypsum Creek. The town supplies drinking water to approximately 7,000 residents with 2,791 connections. The average daily demand on the system is 1.23 million gallons, and the average peak demand is 1.43 million gallons.

The Gypsum stakeholder group included representatives from the town, Eagle County, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Gypsum Fire Protection District, the Eagle River Watershed Council and several local landowners.

Through the process, Hempel assisted a steering committee as they categorized the potential course of contamination and issues of concern for the town’s water. The identification noted both the probability of impact from various sources as well as the level of risk they presented.

VERY HIGH AND CATASTROPHIC

The study revealed wildfire impact to the upper watershed, located on Forest Service property, was the greatest danger to Gypsum’s water supply. The risk level was categorized as “very high” and the impact to the system was classified as “catastrophic.”

“It is certainly Gypsum’s No. 1 concern” said Hempel.

But the community isn’t unique in this regard. Hempel noted many mountain communities that get water from surface sources identified similar risks and impacts. While it may be a cliche, it is still true that identifying the problem is the first step toward addressing it.

In Gypsum’s case, Hempel said the town needs to complete more soils and slope study for the area around its intakes to determine a defensible space. Defensible space is a familiar term for anyone who lives in wooded mountain areas, and it refers to a series of actions that can lessen the chances of wholesale property loss due to wildfire. These actions include everything from cutting back thick brush to laying down gravel or other material to limit fuels around a structure.

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Wildfires and Our Mountain Streams

With the arrival of fall colors, wildfire season in the West is on the retreat. It’s important to look back on the toll these fires have taken on Colorado’s watersheds. In 2015, wildfires burned a record-breaking 10.1 million acres across the U.S., according to High Country News. We’ve seen a similar magnitude of burns this summer from California to Idaho and in our own backyard with the Hayden Pass, Cold Springs near Boulder, Beaver Creek and Sylvan Lake fires. Aside from the risks to houses and human lives, wildfires also pose threats to our watershed and river systems.

Wildfires have been scorching the earth as long as humans have existed. They are a natural force that keeps our ecosystems in check and natural cycles in motion. As human populations grow and encroach into wild places, wildfires have left that balance teetering. In mountain communities, our local firefighters, Forest Service, and water providers continuously monitor and manage the risks.

Increasing global temperatures means an increase in forest fires in the West, putting greater pressure on our natural resources, including water systems. So what kind of effects are they having on our rivers?

LOW TO MODERATE INTENSITY

Fires, when low-to-moderate in intensity, can actually maintain the long term health of forest and riparian ecosystems by facilitating vegetation succession, which leads to diverse riparian zones. Diversity and regrowth in riparian banks is essential in maintaining bank stabilization and the natural filtration capabilities of native plants. High water flow, flooding, and a surge in nutrients can provide natural habitat for fish reproduction, and can load organic matter that can spike productivity. When these fires are lower intensity, and even prescribed as a forest management tool, they carry on healthy, natural processes.

HIGH INTENSITY

The most detrimental effects to a watershed from high intensity fires are excessive erosion and runoff. Unburned forests act like sponges with rainfall, with the healthy vegetation and litter absorbing water and protecting the soil layer from intense rain. The plant layer slows down the water’s speed as it runs towards the river. The loss of vegetation after a burn leads to greater-exposed, loose soil and less absorption leading to higher runoff volumes. Some plants even release a waxy, water-resistant cover after being burned, further decreasing the forest’s absorptive capacity.

These effects can last years following a fire. The increased runoff leads to flash flooding as river banks overflow with excess volumes. Ash, woody debris, and sometimes fire retardant chemicals are flushed through our rivers, loading pollutants such as phosphorus, nitrate, and ammonia into our water systems. Increased runoff and loss of plants leads to stream banks eroding, adding on to increased sedimentation in our rivers which negatively effects spawning fish and can even clog their gills.

All of this harms aquatic insect life, water temperatures, fish habitat and reproduction, fisheries, and irrigation systems. Increases in sediment load can also put additional pressures on drinking water treatment processes and congest reservoirs downstream of the burn.

PROTECT YOURSELF

Our local firefighters and wildland specialists can only do so much to manage the force of fire — it’s essential to be proactive and aware yourself. Heed fire warnings and bans, fully put out fires while camping, and do not store your firewood on your deck. Homes should be surrounded by fire breaks, or 200 feet of defensive space between their perimeter and the nearest trees. Home consultation services, such as REALFire, exist in our valley to best protect where we live and work. More information can be found at http://www.realfire.net. If, as expected, our county population doubles by 2050, the wildland-urban interface will continue to be tested severely, but deliberate, responsible measures can prevent adding unnecessary risks to our already threatened watershed.

Lizzie Schoder is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.

The latest issue of “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

Students pulling samples
Students pulling samples

CLick here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Are you a teacher in Eagle County who would like to incorporate place-based, hands-on learning with a focus on our local watershed into your curriculum?

Through our Watershed Ed program, we offer individualized, standards-correlated lessons for grades K-12. Email schoder@erwc.org with inquires.

Stay tuned for our next Watershed Wednesday featuring Seth and Jessica Mason of the US Men’s and Women’s Whitewater Raft Teams! They will share photos and talk about their experiences paddling rivers all over the world, and how different cultures interact with water! Details to come.

Choices are narrowing for water development along Eagle River — Aspen Daily News

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:

Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.

One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.

That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.

Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.

Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.

Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.

“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.

Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.

John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.

“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.

At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.

This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.

Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.

Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.

Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.

But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”

But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.

That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.

Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.

Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.
Eagle Park Reservoir is an off-channel reservoir located on property formerly owned by the Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) at the Climax Mine in the upper Eagle River Basin, which was originally used to store mine tailings. As part of the mine reclamation process, Climax removed tailings deposits from the reservoir and converted the facility to a fresh water storage reservoir. In 1998, Eagle Park Reservoir Company (EPRC) purchased the reservoir from Climax and began using it for municipal, industrial, irrigation, and environmental water supply purposes. Photo via Leonard Rice Engineers.

Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.

Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.

Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.

To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.

Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.

Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.

A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.

Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.

Complex wetlands
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.

Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”

“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.

Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”

Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.

A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.

Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.

Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?

Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.

Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.

Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.

At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.

Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”

Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”

The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

prairiewaterstreatment
Aurora Prairie Waters Project
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best
The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

A great big thank you to all who came out and participated in our 22nd Annual Eagle River Cleanup! Over 300 volunteers came out to clean nearly 70 miles of the Eagle, Upper Colorado, and Gore Creek. Stay tuned for how many bags and tons of trash were cleared from our rivers! Good times were had afterwards at the “Thank You” BBQ in Arrowhead. As always, thank you to our presenting sponsor, Vail Resort’s Epic Promise. This event would not be possible without all of our generous business partners, and we’d like to especially thank Vail Board of Realtors, Antlers at Vail, Newfields, and United Companies.

House passes Polis bill to allow Minturn to use water rights, fill Bolts Lake — Real Vail

Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via  LessBeatenPaths.com.
Mountains reflect off of Bolts Lake as seen from US 24 S in Colorado. Photo via
LessBeatenPaths.com.

Here’s the release from Congressman Polis’ office via Real Vail:

Polis’s Bolts Ditch bill passes House of Representatives

WASHINGTON – Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) today passed the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act (H.R. 4510) out of the House of Representatives. This bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to authorize special use access of Bolts Ditch for the diversion of water and maintenance by the town of Minturn, Colorado.

When Congress designated Holy Cross a Wilderness Area in 1980, legislators inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off the list of existing water facilities. The bill would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing the Town of Minturn to use its existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake.

“This bill provides the Town of Minturn access to clean and affordable drinking water while preserving the sanctity of the surrounding wilderness areas,” Rep. Jared Polis said. “We can all agree that water is a precious resource, and we must be deliberate about how we use it. The efforts by our residents, the conservation community, and water utilities displays how we can work together to resolve a long-term problem, and I look forward to swift passage by the Senate.”

“The Town of Minturn has actively pursued a common sense solution to fill Bolts Lake,” Matt Scherr, mayor of Minturn, said. “This bill will give our community the ability to use existing water rights and obtain clean water without harming the wilderness. We commend Rep. Jared Polis for his leadership in the House of Representatives on passing this practical bill, and are excited that it’s one step closer to becoming law.”

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced companion Bolts Ditch legislation in the Senate. Both Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) are co-sponsors of H.R. 4510 in the House of Representatives.

From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

…a lot of people. But on Tuesday the House of Representatives actually passed a bipartisan bill that should prove very helpful for the town of Minturn. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, it’s called the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act.

If it passes in the Senate, where Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner have introduced a version in the upper chamber, the bill would allow the town of Minturn to access Bolts Ditch in order use existing water rights to fill Bolts Lake. Right now that’s problematic because Bolts Ditch was accidentally included in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area back in 1980.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get all the local water authorities and local governments on board before proposing wilderness legislation. One of the big hurdles in drafting a Senate version of Polis’ Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act was understandable resistance from the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District, which wants to maintain access to water sources in any proposed additions to the Eagles Nest and Holy Cross Wilderness Areas.

“Eagle River Water and San has been kind of a thorn, but it sounds like they’ve got things worked out,” Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said during an EcoFlight flyover of the proposed wilderness additions last month. “All of that [access for management of water resources] is in the language already, and I’ve heard they’re ready to say OK.”