Aspen Journalism: Colorado Springs seeks to keep water rights tied to dams, reservoirs

Aspen Journalism: Colorado Springs seeks to maintain water rights tied to dams, reservoirs

A portion of the Blue River seen on Jan. 7, 2020, close to the Gold Hill Trailhead in Breckenridge. Colorado Springs Utilities is combating to maintain conditional water rights connected to 3 small reservoirs within the headwaters of the Blue River.

Liz Copan/Summit Every day Information

A Entrance Vary water provider is coming into its eighth yr of attempting to maintain water rights alive to 3 small reservoirs on the headwaters of the Blue River in Summit County to take extra water from the Western Slope.

Colorado Springs Utilities has been caught within the water dispute since 2015, combating for its conditional water rights, which date to 1952 and are tied to 3 proposed reservoirs: Decrease Blue Lake Reservoir, which might be constructed on Monte Cristo Creek with a 50-foot-high dam and holds 1,006 acre-feet of water; Spruce Lake Reservoir, which might be constructed on Spruce Creek with an 80- to 90-foot excessive dam and maintain 1,542 acre-feet; and Mayflower Reservoir, which might even be constructed on Spruce Creek with a 75- to 85-foot excessive dam and maintain 618 acre-feet.

An acre-foot is the quantity of water wanted to cowl an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot.

The water lawsuit has eight completely different opponents, together with town of Breckenridge; Summit County; Colorado River Water Conservation District; agricultural and home water customers within the Grand Valley; Decrease Arkansas Water Conservancy District; and a non-public landowner who has mining claims within the space. Many of the opponents say they personal water rights within the space that might be adversely affected if the Blue River mission is granted conditional rights.

Representatives from town of Breckenridge, Summit County and Colorado Springs Utilities all declined to touch upon the case to Aspen Journalism.

The proposed reservoirs would feed into the Colorado Springs Continental-Hoosier system, also called the Blue River Challenge, which takes water from the headwaters of the Blue River between Breckenridge and simply earlier than Hoosier Cross, to Colorado Springs by way of the Hoosier Tunnel, Montgomery Reservoir, and Blue River Pipeline. It’s the metropolis’s first and oldest diversion mission over the mountains. The Hoosier Tunnel takes a median of about 8,000 acre-feet of water per yr, in line with state diversion information.

Annually, transmountain diversions take about 500,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River basin to the Entrance Vary. Colorado Springs is a big a part of this huge community of tunnels and transportation methods that transfer water from the west facet of the Continental Divide to the east facet, the place the state’s largest cities are positioned.

Aspen Journalism/Courtesy picture

Colorado Springs Utilities, which serves greater than 600,000 prospects within the Pikes Peak area, attracts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork, Eagle and Blue rivers, all tributaries of the Colorado River. Colorado Springs will get 50% of its uncooked water provide, about 50,000 acre-feet yearly, from the Colorado River basin, in line with Jennifer Jordan, public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities. The prevailing Blue River system represents about 9% of Colorado Springs’ whole uncooked water provide, she mentioned.

CSU and town of Aurora are engaged on one other potential diversion mission over the mountains: a reservoir on decrease Homestake Creek within the Eagle River basin that will maintain between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet.

The River District, which was fashioned in 1937 partly to combat over-the-mountain diversions that take water from the Western Slope, opposes the Blue River water rights lawsuit.

We’re open to listening to what the candidates need to say in regards to the mission, what their wants are and whether or not they can present significant compensation and mitigation of the impacts, mentioned Peter Fleming, River District normal counsel. On the finish of the day, there might be a deal the place the West Slope will get a end result that hopefully is smart.

A placeholder for water rights

In Colorado water legislation, the doctrine of prior appropriation governs. These with the oldest water rights get first use of the water, making the oldest rights essentially the most helpful or senior. Underneath the prior grant system, a water person merely has to place the water to helpful use, for instance irrigating land or utilizing water in a house to get the best water. The person can then ask a court docket to make it official and safe their place within the queue.

Conditional water rights are an exception to this rule that permit a water person, resembling Colorado Springs Utilities, save their place in line within the advance grant system whereas they work to develop massive, difficult, multi-year water initiatives. However they need to submit a redevelopment utility to the water court docket each six years, proving that they’ve really labored to develop the mission and that they’ll and can use the water for good. Hoarding water rights with none actual plan to place them to helpful use is concept and isn’t allowed.

In its 2015 due diligence submitting, CSU mentioned over the earlier six years it had employed consultants Wilson Water Group and its subcontractors to do a water provide evaluation; a technical and geotechnical analysis of every reservoir web site; and a examine of potential environmental results of the event of the reservoirs. CSU mentioned it additionally acquired 28 undeveloped parcels of land to guard the mission’s infrastructure and in addition carried out upkeep work on different elements of the Blue River system, contributing greater than $4.2 million in prices to the general Blue River mission.

Assistant Pitkin County Legal professional Laura Makar isn’t concerned within the Blue River case, however she is a authorized knowledgeable on conditional water rights.

The thought is that each six years you tackle what the wants are, so you do not have anybody on the market parking themselves in line for 100 years, she mentioned. They have to present that the mission can and might be accomplished diligently inside an inexpensive time and utilized to the helpful makes use of within the quantities they’ve claimed.

The Wilson Water Group examine concludes that there’s sufficient water bodily and legally obtainable to fill the reservoirs.

Historic bogs and endangered species

In accordance with the Wilson Water Group examine, there are a number of environmental considerations. Soil samples point out that not less than a portion of the wetlands close to the Decrease Blue Lake Reservoir space include historical and fragile groundwater-fed wetlands with natural peat soils.

The presence of lavatory wetlands could cause allow challenges, the report says.

The report additionally says the three reservoir websites could also be house to endangered species, together with Canada lynx and Greenland trout. Facility entry to Spruce Lake Reservoir could be difficult and would require a brand new 2-mile-long highway. A brand new 1.5-mile highway could be wanted for entry to Mayflower Lake Reservoir.

The mission would want permits from the US Military Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Division of Public Well being and Setting and the US Forest Service, in addition to a 1041 allow from Summit County.

Kendra Tully, govt director of the Blue River Watershed Group, mentioned her group’s largest concern with the mission is its potential influence on already low flows within the Blue River.

We really feel there may be already an environmental concern with how a lot water is allotted to environmental flows within the river, and if we take away extra from the highest, we’re simply going to have an effect on the whole lot downstream, she mentioned.

Though the Blue River Watershed Group isn’t an opponent within the water lawsuit, she mentioned the group is urging Summit County to do its personal environmental influence examine on the mission and probably use its 1041 powers, which permit native governments to control improvement. In 1994, Eagle County stopped Colorado Springs and Aurora from constructing the Homestake II reservoir mission by utilizing its 1041 powers to disclaim permits.

What we’re asking (Summit County) to do is to ensure they actually have in mind all the ability they’ve with the 1041 allow, which is what CSU wants to really develop a few of their water, Tully mentioned.

Time line

However earlier than allowing and development of the reservoirs might start, CSU should first safe one other six-year extension of its conditional storage rights. It has been eight years since CSU filed the due diligence case, a protracted however not totally uncommon interval, in line with Makar. If CSU cannot attain agreements with every of the opponents with the assistance of a water choose, the case might go to trial, which isn’t a really perfect state of affairs for any water person, she mentioned.

Whenever you get on a trial path, you might be compelled into discovery and an ordinary trial place; you’re taking statements from everyone’s witnesses and that tends to make individuals scramble, she mentioned. It’s not a very good mannequin to permit for dialogue and drawback fixing.

The following standing assembly within the case is scheduled for April 13.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in partnership with The Aspen Instances. For extra, go to

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Author: ZeroToHero

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