East, West slopes work together for water solution | SummitDaily.com

East, West slopes work together for water solution

Lu Snyder

Green Mountain reservoir users in order of priority –

– Colorado Big Thompson project: 52,000 acre feet (used to replace some of the water diverted to the East slope for the CBT project)

– Silt Project Pool: 5,000 acre feet

– Historic Users Pool: 66,000 acre feet (three of the largest users are Grand Valley irrigators)

– Contract Users: 20,000 acre feet (includes Copper Mountain metro district, Silverthorne and Summit County)

SUMMIT COUNTY – This year’s drought has thrown one monkey wrench after another into the water equation for Green Mountain reservoir users.

“We’ve never seen a year like this,” said Brian Werner, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “We’re running into issues and problems we thought we’d never see. At the same time, I think its causing all of us to be creative and innovative.”

The problems began when the reservoir did not fill enough to provide water for all its users. On paper, it might seem easy to say there is not enough water for a particular user. But that is not always feasible, and water officials have been working together to find solutions to ease some of those shortages.

In Colorado, water rights are prioritized by the time they were acquired. Someone with water rights from 1930 has higher rights than one with rights from the ’50s. In Green Mountain’s ladder of seniority, contract users have the lowest priority.

So, when Green Mountain didn’t fill, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials announced they would have no water for the reservoir’s contract users.

Reclamation and Colorado River Water Conservation District officials worked together to find substitute water in Ruedi reservoir. Though Ruedi, too, has been affected by the drought, it has suffered to a lesser extent than have most of the state’s reservoirs.

ExxonMobile surprised many when they agreed to release 5,500 acre feet of water to help Green Mountain’s contract users. (An acre foot is 325,851 gallons, and can serve two urban families for a year.) Other Ruedi users also have agreed to help, and officials now have approximately 8,000 acre feet of water from Ruedi promised to Green Mountain contract users, said Dave Merritt, chief engineer with the river district.

Meanwhile, Reclamation officials planned to drain Green Mountain to its dead pool – the amount which cannot be drained from the reservoir because it’s below the spillway.

Those plans went awry when concerns arose of landslides in Heeney. Heeney was the site of a landslide in the early 1960s – the last time the reservoir was drained to the dead pool.

In an effort to avoid another landslide, Reclamation officials announced last week they would not drain the water below 7,850 feet. But the water that will remain in the reservoir this year means there is an approximately 20,000 acre feet shortage for the Historic Users Pool (HUP).

Since the HUP has higher priority than contract users, will the 8,000 acre feet originally allocated for the contract users go to the HUP instead? No, said Merritt.

Though the Ruedi water exchange has yet to be finalized, that water still will go to contract users, he said.

But river district officials said they do not believe HUP users should shoulder that shortage, and water officials now are working toward finding a way to mediate the latest problem.

Though the HUP consists of commercial, recreational and metropolitan users, the biggest portion goes to three major irrigation systems in the Grand Valley, said Malcolm Wilson, Reclamation’s water resources engineer.

Merritt said the irrigation systems already have cut back their water consumption by 25 percent this summer. The additional shortage could put their crops at risk, he added.

Officials with the Northern district (which represents users in northeastern Colorado) said they’re working to acquire 10,000 acre feet of water from Ruedi to help West slope users who will be shorted by the landslide concerns.

“We’re far enough along that it appears it might work,” Werner said. “We’re trying to make a decision as soon and as fast as we can.”

The water would cost approximately $650,000, and the bill would be split between the Northern District’s water and power users, said Brian Werner, spokesperson for the Northern District.

“It’s easy for us in these situations to throw bombs back and forth at each other,” Werner said, referring to the age-old water battle between East and West slope users. “We’re all in the middle of a drought. Nobody’s getting as much water as they’d like to this year.”

If the Northern District plan succeeds, it means users on the East slope will be footing the bill to ease water problems on the West slope.

A 10,000 acre foot-gap remains, however, and officials from the river district and Reclamation are working together to find a solution for that equation.

“This has been the worst drought we’ve seen,” Merritt said. “We’re trying to balance all the interests and make sure people are getting enough to go around.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com

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