ERWC: The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.
Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

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

It’s been a busy year for the Watershed Council. The board and staff would like to take this time to thank everyone that participated in the wide variety of activities presented by our organization in 2016—from our educational Watershed Wednesdays series held throughout the valley, the sold out Wild and Scenic Film Festival, our annual Highway Cleanup, to our signature River Cleanup event. We would like to thank all of our funding partners that supported our mission of advocating for our rivers through educational programs, special events, restoration projects, monitoring, research, and community engagement.

Eagle River Watershed Council believes that our rivers and streams are the life-blood of our valley. Their preservation and restoration supports our economy, culture and quality of life.

The Watershed Council’s annual programs and events represent the public side of the work we do, but we are also involved in a variety of partnership efforts such as providing water quality sampling along Gore Creek, the Eagle River, and various tributary streams within the watershed. The sampling data collected and compiled by the Watershed Council is available in an interactive and easy to understand format online at http://wqcourier.erwc.org. The data also provides a baseline which can be used to identify emerging threats or effectiveness of stream health improvement projects.

Eagle River Watershed Council has coordinated the effort to improve water quality in our local streams through its participation in the Urban Runoff Group, a stakeholder committee that includes entities such as Eagle County, CDOT, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the towns of Avon and Vail, Vail Resorts and the Vail Recreation District. This group initiated the Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan in 2013 and the Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan in 2015 culminating in the “Restore the Gore” program, for which projects are currently underway. The Watershed Council applauds the Vail Town Council for their vision in understanding that the health of Gore Creek benefits all user groups and for beginning the process of improving water quality on the Gore.

The three major factors that are likely affecting aquatic life in Gore Creek are not exclusive to that stream and can affect all urbanized waterways within the watershed. They are:

  • Pollution from chemicals used in urbanized areas adjacent to streams, such as fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides used in landscaping.
  • An increase in stormwater runoff from impervious areas such as roads, parking lots, buildings, and other hardscape areas that prevent infiltration of rain and snowmelt that would recharge the aquifer and support base flows.
  • Loss of vegetation along the stream. These riparian plants normally play a critical role in filtering pollutants from storm water runoff before it enters the stream.
  • The Watershed Council, through the Urban Runoff Group, has just completed an action plan for a segment of the Eagle River from its confluence with Gore Creek downstream to the EagleVail half diamond interchange. In assessing this section of river, the Watershed Council provided recommendations to mitigate the effects of urbanization affecting water quality. This includes recommendations for changes to land use regulations, improved storm water infrastructure, and projects to restore vegetation along the stream.

    In 2017, we look forward to assisting with the implementation of the completed Action Plans and completing the same process through the other communities in the valley.

    We have a full schedule of Watershed Wednesdays, filled with great tours and engaging presentations, coming together for the year as well. Our 2017 restoration projects are in design and planning now, we look forward to utilizing our wonderful cadre of volunteers this next summer in implementing those. Stay tuned if you are interested in getting involved.

    With the addition of new boat ramps, increased river access through open space parcels and an increase in population over the last several years, river usage is at an all time high. We as a community need to be vigilant to balance the economic and recreational usage of our rivers that we all enjoy with the need to improve or maintain a high level of water quality throughout the watershed.

    Gary Brooks is the Board Chairman 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.

    @VailCOWater: New Water Tank in Mountain Star

    Eagle River Water & Sanitation District staff members with Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority board members and representatives of the town of Avon, Mountain Star Association, and contractors involved in developing and constructing the 270,000-gallon water storage tank in Mountain Star.
    Eagle River Water & Sanitation District staff members with Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority board members and representatives of the town of Avon, Mountain Star Association, and contractors involved in developing and constructing the 270,000-gallon water storage tank in Mountain Star.

    Here’s the release from the Eagle Valley Water and Sanitation District:

    Water Authority brings new water storage tank online.

    Representatives of the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, town of Avon, and Mountain Star Association gathered Dec. 8 to mark the completion of a new water storage tank that serves the Mountain Star community.

    The Water Authority put the 270,000-gallon tank into service Nov. 15, after it was completed on time and under budget during a six-month construction window.

    Envisioned in 1993 – when Avon originally approved the subdivision – the tank is one of five that along with five booster pump stations comprises the potable water supply system that had to be built to deliver water from the valley floor to the high alpine development north of Avon.

    The 1993 subdivision approval anticipated this tank being built at a future date when suitable U.S. Forest Service land could be obtained. The then-existing Avon Metro District agreed that it would collect tap fees from homes that were built and served by a somewhat-temporary water supply system until this storage tank could be constructed.

    The Water Authority acquired the necessary Forest Service property in May 2013 as part of the complex, multi-year Eagle Valley Land Exchange agreement. With the site acquisition costs and ongoing pump station improvements, the Authority has recently spent about $2.2 million on the Mountain Star system.

    Mountain Star, Avon, and Authority representatives worked together for several years to agree on funding and construction of the final storage tank, which resulted in an Implementation Agreement. The project cost estimate of $1.85 million was more than the amount of tap fees collected by Avon since 1993, so Mountain Star homeowners agreed to fund the remaining cost. The Authority committed $135,000 to upgrade to a longer-lasting, less maintenance-dependent tank. The Agreement also included a guaranteed maximum price contract and a provision that Mountain Star homeowners would receive any cost savings.

    The Water Authority used an integrated project delivery method for the tank and the actual cost is projected to be $1.55 million, a savings of about $300,000. The Authority will refund this savings to Mountain Star after final accounting of the actual project costs.

    At 9,380 feet, the new tank serves higher-elevation residences and benefits public safety via enhanced fire protection. While the tank provides additional water storage, the parties are committed to efficient water use with many homeowners participating in the Authority’s water demand management pilot study to establish new irrigation practices that benefit landscapes while decreasing overall water use.

    Contact: Linn Brooks, General Manager: 970-476-7480

    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