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Landslide worries change plans

Lu Snyder

HEENEY – Concerned Heeney citizens, residents and business owners filled the town’s Lower Blue Fire Station Thursday evening for a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation discussion about the area’s landside issues.

There was good and bad news.

Though the current water shortage requires Reclamation officials to drain Green Mountain to the dead pool, they won’t do it this year, said Brian Person, area manager for Reclamation’s eastern Colorado area office.

The dead pool is the water that sits below the spillway and, thus, can’t be drained from the reservoir. At Green Mountain, the dead pool lies at an elevation of 6,860 feet – 1,050 feet below the reservoir’s capacity.

However, the 80 or so homes in Heeney, which line the water’s western shore, are built on a previous slide area. According to Person, geologists have determined Heeney is built in an area prone to slides.

“The entire hillside in Heeney is a slide area,” Person said. “It’s evident that slides have occurred periodically in that area, virtually since glaciers receded.”

Those slide concerns have prompted Reclamation officials’ decision not to drain to the dead pool.

“Under no circumstances do folks want us to go below 7,850,” Person said.

The landslide on the minds of most Heeney residents is one that occurred late December 1962 and into early January 1963.

That slide coincided with a rapid drawdown of the reservoir, for maintenance purposes, Person said. The slide was approximately 1,800 feet in length (along the shoreline) and 1,300 to 1,400 feet in width (from downhill to uphill).

“It’s not like the videos you see of California … where the foundations of homes are washed out from beneath them,” he said. “The slide that occurred in 1962 and ’63 was over a period of weeks.”

That slide caused only minor damage to a few homes.

Reclamation officials explained reservoir operations, the area’s land formation, landslide factors and their plans in an effort to ease people’s worries.

But the news was bittersweet for many.

Heeney resident Ron Stephens pointed out that the land began to crack in 1962 when the water was at 7,847 – only 3 feet from this year’s designated minimum elevation of 7,850.

“That is the target, and we won’t go below (7,850 feet),” Person said. “If we see signs of movement before that, we’ll have to reevaluate.”

Meanwhile, officials are monitoring the land for movement. They have installed “pins” – about 3 feet of PVC pipe, filled with concrete and rebar in the center – uphill on one portion of the slide area. The pipes are inserted into the ground. Experts monitor the distance between the pins to determine land movement.

Person said officials would like to add four more pins to help them monitor and asked property owners for their assistance, as it would require use of private property.

And though residents were reassured the reservoir would not be drawn down to the dead pool this year, next year is a different question, as Dale Mitchener, owner of the Heeney marina noted.

“Is there any contingency plan for next year, if we have a dry winter?” Mitchener asked. “You won’t have the latitude to play with.”

Person said Reclamation officials are working actively toward a long-term solution to the slide problem, but said there is the potential they would have to drain the water to dead pool in the future.

“We don’t yet know that,” he said. “There are a number of factors to be taken into account.”

By not draining Green Mountain this year, a total of 20,000 acre-feet of water will remain in the reservoir. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons and can serve two urban families for a year.) Though that might be good news to Heeney residents, it also means someone loses out downstream.

In Colorado, water rights are based on priority. In other words, first in time is first in line. So when there’s a shortage, it’s those with the most junior water rights who lose out.

Since Green Mountain didn’t fill this year, those with the most junior water rights lose out.

Reclamation officials already declared they didn’t have enough water to provide for their contract users, which include the Copper Mountain metro district, Silverthorne and others.

The additional shortage created by not draining Green Mountain to dead pool this year will be seen by what is known as the Historic Users Pool (HUP). Three irrigation systems, which supply water to agricultural areas in the Grand Valley, are among the users in the HUP.

“They will be the primary ones suffering,” said Malcolm Wilson, Reclamation’s water resources engineer.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com


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