U.S. Water News Online
VAIL, Colo. -- It may be flowing through the Vail Valley,
but much of the water in the area is promised to communities
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District wants it back.
Back in the 1960s, the city and county of Denver bought up water
rights on the Western Slope, including hundreds of thousands acre
feet in the Vail Valley. Denver got "conditional water rights"
meaning they had to do something with them -- use them or prepare to
use them -- to keep them.
Every six years, Denver has to come back to water court and prove
it's being diligent about using the water in some way. It's also
anybody else's chance to say Denver isn't using the water and doesn't
deserve to keep it.
The water and sanitation district seized the opportunity, suing
Denver water earlier this year and claiming they haven't done
anything with the water rights.
Though there have been negotiations between the water and
sanitation district and Denver Water in the past, nothing came of
them, said Glenn Porzak said, the district's water attorney.
Winning this case would secure the future of water in the Eagle
River, Porzak said.
"They (Denver Water) haven't done the diligence," said Diane
Johnson, the district's spokeswoman. "They haven't proved they need
it or how much they need."
What is the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District? The
district provides water from East Vail to Dowd Junction and also Red
Sky Ranch in Wolcott. It treats wastewater for the entire district.
Minturn provides its own water and the Upper Eagle Regional Water
Authority provides water to Avon, Arrowhead, Beaver Creek, Berry
Creek, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Bachelor Gulch and Cordillera. The
183,000 acre feet of water from Vail to Wolcott are part of Denver's
long-term water plan beginning after 2030, said Dave Little, Denver
Water's manager of water resources and general planning.
And while Denver Water hasn't been digging in the river, Little
said hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in surveys
and studies on a potential Wolcott reservoir and interests on the
Piney River, north of Vail. Porzak said a Wolcott reservoir could be
one-and-a-half-times the size of Dillon Reservoir.
"It would strip out the majority of the water in the Eagle River
and take that over the (Continental) Divide," he said.
Planning decades in advance is what large cities need to do to
insure a water supply for their residents, Little said, referencing a
Denver water right purchased in 1902 and developed in the 1980s.
"It's the people who don't do that who are the ones who are caught
without the water," he said. "Then they're spending lots of money to
catch up and are in a panicked situation."
Porzak isn't convinced.
"We don't think that a minimum of 60 years delay is being diligent
under the laws of Colorado," Porzak said. "I think they're
speculating they need these water rights, and they can't do that in
Porzak added Denver has enough water for its own growth and may be
hoarding water rights to sell to nearby cities.
If the water and sanitation district were to win, it could claim
"It's our water," Johnson said. "We don't want Denver to have our
water. There's growth here too. If there's water in the stream, we
want an opportunity to use that water and put it to beneficial use."
But Little says the Vail Valley has more than enough water for
growth. It's recreation that may be impacted.
"There are people who like to river raft and kayak in the summer,
and that's the time that other people like to divert water," he said.
If the state, especially the Denver area, continues to see
population boom, the state may have to decide if rafting in the High
Country is more important than providing drinking water to cities,
Because the water judge who was assigned to hear the case died,
the trial was pushed back to June 2007.
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