Denver needed to seal Eagle River deal |

Denver needed to seal Eagle River deal

Water users from both sides of the Continental Divide are talking about a deal for Eagle River water that would chart the future for all parties.

Such talks, which could yield creative solutions to water needs, are a far sight better than lawsuits, and should be pursued with vigor.

For the past decade, Eagle County water users have worked with the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, as the Eagle River Assembly, to develop water storage they all can use.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, based in Glenwood Springs but serving the 15 counties that make up the Colorado River basin, has played a key role for the Assembly in offering water rights, mediation and technical support.

This friendship emerged after a long and bitter fight over permits for the controversial Homestake II water diversion from within the Holy Cross Wilderness, which was ultimately killed.

First, the Assembly members agreed to take no more than another 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Eagle River.

Then, working together, they cleaned and emptied a tailings pond at the dormant Climax molybdenum mine to make a reservoir that yields 3,000 acre-feet of water a year – enough for 12,000 new urban residents.

These kinds of small, incremental projects are the way we will boost water supplies in the future. But they are expensive, which makes cooperation all the more valuable.

Denver, the other major holder of water rights in the Eagle River basin, has watched this effort from a distance. But its massive water rights portfolio in the Eagle River basin – none of it yet developed – could counteract all these efforts.

The capitol city holds very old water rights to divert as much as 100,000 acre-feet of Eagle River water a year. That could nearly dry up the Eagle River, and would crowd out existing water users, from Breckenridge to Parachute, who hold less senior rights.

Following a severe drought year, Denver has now taken a seat at the table. If it joined the group, it would take a part of the 30,000 acre-feet allotment. But Denver would also allow its undeveloped water rights to permanently lapse – an undeniably good thing for the Western Slope.

Denver’s commitment is crucial to the overall success of the Eagle River Assembly’s projects. It can bring water rights, funding and more creative minds to the cooperative venture.

Instead of spending money on lawyers and court cases fighting over water, it makes a lot more sense for water users on both sides of the Divide to direct their minds and wallets toward the same goal: finding water for growth while maintaining healthy rivers.

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