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River district will support water storage at Pueblo Reservoir

Dennis Webb

The Colorado River Water Conservation District has agreed to support a plan to boost Front Range reservoir storage after receiving assurances that it won’t come at the Western Slope’s expense.The Glenwood Springs-based, 15-county district will back federal legislation that will let the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District take advantage of extra storage space at Pueblo Reservoir. The bill also would authorize a study of the possibility of enlarging Pueblo and Turquoise reservoirs.Chris Treese, a spokesman for the river district, said that with the legislation, Colorado Springs “will realize an additional 70,000 acre feet of yield by better using existing water supplies.””That’s 70,000 acre feet that they’re not coming over to the Western Slope for,” he said.It’s also that much less water that the city might otherwise seek to obtain by acquiring irrigation water in the Arkansas River Valley, drying up agricultural land in the process, Treese said.The deal also is significant in that it will help protect flows in the Roaring Fork River upstream of Aspen, Treese said.The river district and nine-county Southeastern district recently concluded negotiations that addressed the river district’s concerns with the Southeastern district’s Preferred Storage Options Plan.The Southeastern district first approached the river district with that plan five years ago. While the river district supported the plan in principle, it withheld support due to concerns about operational details and their impacts on the Western Slope.It has since negotiated for clarified language aimed at providing basin-of-origin mitigation for any new transmountain diversions allowed by the legislation.The river district had been concerned that the legislation might unilaterally alter the agreements and mitigation protections included in the original, 1962 congressional authorization of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.The legislation would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contract with nonproject entities for storage space through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. That project was built to move Western Slope water across the Continental Divide. Nonproject water could come from any source, said Jim Broderick, executive director for the Southeastern district. The Southeastern district has assured the river district that the principal source will be existing water supplies, particularly through reuse of water from existing transmountain diversions.Under a typical water right, the water can be used only once, Treese said. But the owner of water from transmountain diversions can reuse that water over and over.The new legislation also would allow the Bureau of Reclamation to conduct a feasibility study on expanding Pueblo and Turquoise reservoirs. The river district will support and participate in that study.The legislation doesn’t authorize expansion of either reservoir.”We’re not putting any mortar, we’re not putting any bricks in place,” Broderick said.The advantage of enlarging the reservoirs is that the storage space created would be guaranteed for the entities funding the expansion. By contrast, any excess space used for nonproject water would have to be given up if more water diverted by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project comes in, Broderick said.Treese said that as part of the recent negotiations, the river district has received assurances that Western Slope water providers can continue to manage Colorado River Basin water supplies without interference from the Eastern Slope. He said the district sought that stipulation after Eastern Slope entities began getting involved in Western Slope water cases.The district also has won a promise to keep the so-called “Twin Lakes exchange agreement” in place. That agreement keeps more water in the Roaring Fork River in Aspen and upstream, by diverting less water through the Grizzly Creek Tunnel through the Continental Divide and taking more water out of Hunter Creek farther downstream instead. The agreement has been in place for about a decade but the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. had threatened to stop participating in the exchange. So the river district obtained a guarantee that the exchange would occur for another 10 years, and most likely in perpetuity, as part of its promise to support the legislation, Treese said.A technical committee also will be involved in making sure the exchange takes place at a time that best benefits the Roaring Fork River, in late summer when low water levels are the greatest concern.Broderick praised the deal on the water legislation, saying it shows what can happen when the Eastern Slope and Western Slope commit to trying to work together on water issues.”We all came to an agreement that this is what it would take to get it done and we all came to the table and got it done,” he said. “It’s funny what can happen when you have communication and dialogue. Things start to happen.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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