Water storage has long been eyed at Wolcott site
WOLCOTT – Discussions of a possible reservoir near Wolcott have taken on renewed urgency in the context of the lingering drought, but the site has been eyed for potential water storage for many years, even decades, according to Peter Roessman of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.The concept gained new impetus recently as Eagle County interests, including the water and sanitation district and Vail Resorts, sought to gain some certainty as to how Denver Water and other Front Range providers might develop their considerable water rights in the Eagle River Basin.Denver Water owns conditional rights to 200,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River Basin from a combination of various decreed water rights, according to Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak. A 2000 feasibility study by the utility took a fresh look at those rights and once again identified the Wolcott site for potential storage, Porzak said. Earlier plans included the possibility of piping the water back up the Interstate 70 corridor and through a tunnel under Vail Pass, where it would then end up in Dillon Reservoir via the Tenmile drainage.”This really started with the concerns West Slope entities had about undeveloped water rights,” Porzak said.Now, Denver Water, Aurora and the Northern Water Conservancy District say that, in exchange for a fixed amount of water in the proposed Wolcott Reservoir, they would abandon their other rights in the basin.”We don’t like to say ‘abandon,’ we like to say ‘donate,'” said Denver Water planner Dave Little, eliciting a few laughs from the audience at a recent informational meeting on the Wolcott proposal.Under the Wolcott scenarios being discussed, Eagle County and Front Range interests would both see some certainty in their water supply situation, with water available for downstream demand and upstream exchanges, as well as for future development in Eagle County.But the big gap in the puzzle is the effect on Summit and Grand counties, where Denver Water also controls significant undeveloped conditional water rights. Porzak said the Wolcott discussions must be viewed in the context of similar negotiations among Front Range interests and Summit and Grand counties. It’s not likely that elected leaders in those communities will buy into the Wolcott plan until those issues are fully addressed. “We need to close some doors where we can,” said Silverthorne-based water attorney Taylor Hawes. “We need some finality.”Hawes said it’s always been known that Denver is going to take more water from Summit and Grand counties. The negotiations must ensure that one county’s gain isn’t another’s loss, she said. The Wolcott Reservoir also would include what officials described as an “environmental pool” of up to 20,000 acre-feet. The hope is that conservation groups will come to the table as stakeholders -with money to buy some of that water. That could result in some environmental benefits in the Eagle River downstream of the reservoir, where higher flows could be maintained for fish during the low-flow season in late summer and fall.”The benefits to Aurora would be relatively modest,” said Doug Kemper, the city’s strategic resources planning manager. Even with the Wolcott discussion under way, Kemper said he is studying other options, including a pump-back scheme that would deliver water from smaller headwaters near Camp Hale and Red Cliff under the Divide. Participation in the Wolcott deal would enable Aurora to take more from those other sources during dry years, Kemper said.
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