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Water officials disagree on water supplies for snowmaking

by Jane Stebbins

Who uses what?

– The Breckenridge Ski Resort used 550 acre feet of water for snowmaking last season. An acre foot is 325,851 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot.

– The town of Breckenridge uses about 80 acre feet a day

SUMMIT COUNTY – More than water, more than snow, water officials wish they had a crystal ball.

Water commissioner Scott Hummer stunned county officials last week when he told them there might not be enough water for ski areas to make snow next season.

But water attorney Glenn Porzak wholeheartedly disagrees.

“This is a huge drought and a lot of people are in trouble,” Porzak said. “But the fact of the matter is people in Summit County participated in an effort nearly a decade ago to protect itself against a drought like we’re experiencing. We are going into the start of the snowmaking season with all of our reservoirs completely full. I was flabbergasted (to hear Hummer’s comments). I got to tell you; they are just dead wrong.”

The effort Porzak refers to is the 1992 construction of Clinton Reservoir along Highway 91 near Fremont Pass. It and Goose Pasture Tarn from which the Breckenridge Ski Resort gets some of its water for snowmaking, is full of water.

Breckenridge Ski Resort gets the bulk of its water for snowmaking from the tarn, Porzak said. And he is busy making arrangements with Colorado Springs to use additional water from the Upper Blue Reservoir at the base of Hoosier Pass for snowmaking.

“Between water in the Goose Pasture Tarn and the Upper Blue Reservoir, they’ll have as much water as they had last summer,” he said of the Breckenridge resort. “And there is enough water for both the town and the ski area to live off of storage in the Goose Pasture Tarn.”

The town uses three to four cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from what spills out of the tarn each day, and has never had to use its supply in the tarn, said Gary Roberts, water superintendent for the town of Breckenridge. If the ski area took all the water it is allocated, it would leave the town with about 500 acre feet of water – enough to last about five months.

“Glenn’s right: Our total portfolio of water rights looks good,” Roberts said. “But if you do the math on the 400 acre feet left after the ski area takes theirs, and if the river flow is 2 cfs for winter when normally it’s 5 or 6, we’re still going to need to take some water out of storage. We’ll need 80 acre feet a day.”

Copper Mountain Resort gets its water from the Tenmile Creek, which also is running at record low stream flows. But water above it, in Clinton Reservoir, can be released to fill the stream and fuel the snowmaking guns. Copper Mountain has access to 4,250 acre feet in Clinton Reservoir, Porzak said, and Keystone has 1,500 acre feet.

“Copper Mountain is in just as good a shape because their points of diversion are directly down river from Clinton Reservoir,” Porzak said. And in low-water years, Keystone Resort, which also has access to water in Clinton Reservoir, has an agreement with Denver Water that allows it to extract water through the Montezuma Vent in the Roberts Tunnel.

Hummer, however, isn’t convinced the releases will be enough to get the water to the diversion points.

“We’re seeing low flows that we usually see during the snowmaking season,” he said. “And without the flows in the stream that naturally move water down the creek, will there be enough water to get the released water downstream? I don’t think so. To see fall flows now is not normal. To anticipate that they can be worse I think is only prudent.

“I’m seeing things now that have never occurred before,” he added. “We’re below the minimum flow. I don’t remember ever seeing that, and I think I have enough experience in working with the streams at all times of the year to make an educated opinion as to what may occur. And it may not. It’s not that there won’t be any water, but the way they’re able to use the water might be limited based on the observations we see today.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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