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Upper Blue pumpback dead in the water

BOB BERWYNSummit Daily News

BRECKENRIDGE – Residents of the Upper Blue who were counting on the proposed Blue River pumpback to solve some their water woes will have to look somewhere else.The $10 million pumpback plan died Thursday night, when the Breckenridge Sanitation District voted to stop pursuing the project. The district has spent $.5 million during the last few years as it eyed the proposal to boost water levels in the river between Dillon Reservoir and the town by recycling some of the flow through a pipeline.The pumpback water could also have been a source of augmentation for well-water users in the Upper Blue, some of whom are under pressure from the State Engineer’s Office to curtail illegal outside water use.Sanitation district manager Andy Carlberg said his next move is to study the costs and figure out the engineering for an expansion at the Farmer’s Korner treatment plant. That expansion will be needed to meet state-set discharge standards.According to proponents, the pumpback would have benefited environmental conditions in the Blue River, and provided more water for the district’s water treatment plants. According to Carlberg, who basically has spent the last three years pursuing the pumpback, it also would have saved taxpayer dollars, as compared to the plant expansion the district must now consider.”The sad thing is, from our standpoint, we’ve been in negotiations for two years that seemed to go backwards,” said sanitation district board member Robin Theobald.”The pumpback operation, while conceptually a good project, needs to operated in such a way that it doesn’t injure the town or the ski area’s water rights,” said attorney Glenn Porzak, who represented those two entities in the negotiations.Theobald said the town, through its attorney, was asking for operational restrictions on the pumpback, and operation of the water treatment plant, that were unacceptable to the sanitation district board. Those conditions could have been crippling to the district, he added.The town’s position was that the way the district wanted to apply its water rights could have potentially injured the town and ski area’s ability to use Blue River water.”It could affect the ski area’s ability to function,” said town manager Tim Gagen, referring to Breckenridge Ski Area’s use of Blue River water for snowmaking.The board’s vote came about a week after a heated meeting between the town council and the san district board, when the two entities decided to give their water attorney one more shot at working out a deal. “I think many of the council members felt ambushed,” Theobald said. “They were being told that things were going OK. But they weren’t,” he said.Theobald placed at least part of the blame in Porzak’s lap, wondering how the attorney can represent stakeholders with interests that at times seem to be in conflict. “How can he represent the ski area, which only wants to take water out of the river, and the town, which wants to keep water in the river?” Theobald asked.”It does bring up some issues,” said Breckenridge Town Councilmember Dave Rossi. “Without it, are we in some kind of dire situation?”At the very least, the pumpback would have made desired river restoration easier, and could have helped with plans to get some residents of the Upper Blue hooked up to the sewer system, reducing the impacts from septic discharges.Town officials are confident that there is enough water available to meet build-out needs, but Rossi said the end of the pumpback plan might be a good time to revisit that question.”Are developments like Peak 7 and Peak 8 coming at the expense of capacity for existing residents?” he wondered.The town will talk about what it’s going to do next, including possibly looking at its own version of a pumpback, Rossi said.The san district ran into similar stumbling blocks a year ago when it was seeking county commissioner approval for the project. At the time, county commissioners said the plan could have jeopardized downstream water rights.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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