Breck to dip into water storage
BRECKENRIDGE – This winter, for the first time in history, the town of Breckenridge will have to dip into the Goose Pasture Tarn in Blue River for its water supplies.
“This is a drought that beats all droughts,” water attorney Glenn Porzak told Breckenridge Town Council members Tuesday afternoon. “Here we are in September, with water flows that are pretty close to what we get in the dead of winter.”
Usually, the town obtains its water from runoff from the tarn’s spillway. The town needs about 4 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the busy winter season, Porzak said. Before the rain fell earlier this week, water flows were at 5 and 6 cfs. Based on historical records, he expects those to drop to 2 cfs by mid-December.
Even when snow blankets the ground and water hardens into ice atop Summit County’s lakes and ponds, flows from the tarn in December typically exceed the 4.87 cfs to which the town is legally entitled.
Porzak estimates the town will need 150 acre-feet of water from the tarn this winter to meet municipal water needs for the town. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of ground to the depth of one foot, or 325,851 gallons.
The tarn holds 892 acre-feet of water, of which 500 acre-feet belong to the town. The rest belongs to Breckenridge Ski Resort, which uses it to make snow. Last year the resort used 550 acre-feet of water to make snow, obtaining the extra 150 acre-feet through water trades with shareholders of storage facilities upstream.
Mayor Sam Mamula said Tuesday the town has no intention of withholding that water from the ski area, although he added that if the drought worsens next year, the town might have to look at development constraints to address water supplies.
Through a series of complex negotiations, Vail Resorts is working with Colorado Springs to secure an extra 100 acre-feet of water the city owns in the Upper Blue River Reservoir near Hoosier Pass. That agreement, which also would allocate an extra 50 acre-feet to Breckenridge and 100 acre-feet to the county, won’t be in effect until Jan. 31, however, and the ski area will need the water as early as next month. By Jan. 1, however, those high-elevation supplies will be locked up in ice, Porzak said.
So lawyers are crafting a one-time deal for this season.
According to Porzak, Colorado Springs will make a one-time early release of 150 acre-feet from the Upper Blue River Reservoir for use by the ski area next month. The release could also help keep tarn water levels higher throughout the winter. The ski area will reimburse Colorado Springs with water from snowmelt and other supplies it hopes to purchase from Wolford Mountain Reservoir.
The water is reserved for use exclusively by the ski area because Colorado Springs water officials refused to make any of their water available to Breckenridge for municipal uses this year, said Town Manager Tim Gagen.
Building a bigger bucket
Porzak said town officials don’t need to worry about water supplies for this winter but should seriously consider obtaining other water rights or creating additional storage to address future needs.
“Lots of experts have been predicting what the driest year could be, and this year has proven them wrong on every count,” Porzak said. This year is off the charts. People have resorted to counting tree rings to determine the last time the West has had a drought this severe. The last one was in 1579. And then, snowfall was 60 percent of normal. This year the West is 20 percent of normal. We have adequate storage, but we only have so much. And if we have little or no snowfall, well, I guess we’re all in trouble.”
The town has water rights totalling 1,200 acre-feet, but the tarn is only so big. Dredging it or inundating the wetlands above it are not particularly cost effective in terms of the value the town would receive in acre- feet, Porzak said.
“The cost issue may not be an issue if we start talking about the future of this community and the ski area,” Mamula said. “Without snowmaking, we won’t be here in a couple of years.”
The town also owns water rights in the Clinton Reservoir by Fremont Pass near Climax. Even if water demands removed all that water, an additional 650 acre-feet of “dead storage” water sits below the spillway. That could be pumped out, Porzak said.
He also advised town officials to add to their water rights portfolio. The only water Porzak knows of that might be available is 100 acre-feet that belong to the Viddler Water Co.
Another option could involve “building a new bucket,” Porzak said. The town and school district own a parcel known as Block 11 north of the recreation center, and the town is close to acquiring a 104-acre parcel, called the McCain property, near Stan Miller’s excavating firm north of town. Porzak said the town could build a storage facility on either parcel.
“I see no reason why you could not develop storage,” he said. “It’s all money. You need to be looking at ways to enhance your physical capacity.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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