Twenty years ago, state legislators denied a proposal for the Fremont Fort Reservoir; today, a Fairplay man is revisiting the idea for water storage in drought years
FAIRPLAY – Richard Hamilton knew it would only be a matter of time before a serious drought would grip the West.
So he’s not happy that legislators almost 20 years ago didn’t consider his proposal to build a 2.2-million-acre-foot reservoir at the junction of Elbert, El Paso and Douglas counties.
Now, he said, the entire state is paying for their short-
“Had the Denver EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for Two Forks chosen Fremont Fort Reservoir as the preferred alternative, there would have been no draining of Dillon, no emptying of 11-Mile or abandonment of Antero reservoirs,” he said. “Had it been built, there would have been no current drought emergency. Poor planning on Denver’s part has caused devastation and destruction of mountain-area, water-based natural resources – both in ecological and economic terms.”
Colorado is in the midst of its worst drought on record, which has legislators scrambling to find ways to mitigate the effects. A variety of bills have been introduced in the Senate and House in the past two months, ranging from encouraging conservation to building a “big straw” to pump water from the Colorado River at the Utah border back into Lake Dillon.
Hamilton, a former lobbyist for water conservation organizations, said legislators could have avoided the problem if they had listened to him and Boulder-based water attorney John Musick in 1983.
The Fairplay man and Musick proposed the state build the Fremont Fort Reservoir as an alternative to Two Forks Dam in 1983. Hamilton said the state wasn’t interested in the idea because under the plan’s stipulations, a river basin authority – not a Front Range water authority – would own the dam and the water behind it. That’s what killed it 17 years ago, he said.
“It was, “If we don’t own it, we don’t want it,'” Hamilton said of Front Range water authorities. “That’s not serving the public. That’s serving the best interests of the water authorities. And it’s our idea; that’s why we can condition its use. We don’t have an enormous interest in it, other than if we leave it up to the Legislature, they’ll change everything. They will rob and beat and steal from your grandmother.”
Dave Little, manager of water resource planning for Denver Water, said he wanted to reserve judgement about the idea until he knows more details.
“We don’t reject things out of hand, but there’s not a whole lot of new ideas out there,” he said. “We have our mountain reservoirs in place already. From an economic standpoint, it would blow us out of the water.”
Hamilton, who said he doesn’t know how much it would cost to build such a structure and declined to say where the water would originate, keeps bringing the topic up to keep it in the minds of legislators. He also believes the Fremont Fort idea would be better than other options currently before the Legislature, although no legislator has agreed to endorse a bill to support such a project.
“People at the Legislature don’t like the concept because it doesn’t allow for an expansion of use,” he said. “But if you can put 2.2 million acre feet between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins and do almost no environmental damage and have insurance against drought, what better idea do you have? I think this is a damn good idea.”
At eight times larger than Dillon Reservoir, Fremont Fort Reservoir would provide the Front Range with enough water to sustain it through 10 years of drought, he added. At the same time, it would provide mountain communities with assurances that their streams and lakes would never go dry again.
Hamilton proposes that Front Range municipalities and water districts that need a secure source of water during drought years could draw all the water from the Fremont Fort Reservoir before tapping any other
mountain-community water sources.
Additionally, water in the reservoir would not be available for new residential, community or agricultural proposals, or for use in water exchanges or intra- or interstate water trades and other agreements.
“We have built Colorado on the scarcest of its resources and have made no insurance whatsoever that variants are accommodated for,” he said. “We need to understand that Colorado has overbuilt itself, and all its mountain reservoirs are nonsustaining. We need something like this. I never want to see the town site of Dillon ever again, and it’s about ready to appear. We need to do more than sit around sucking on our thumbs.”
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