Agreement assures reservoir levels, provides more water for snowmaking and streamflows and money for water, sewer and environmental projects
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A couple of provisions in a proposed water treaty between Denver Water and the West Slope will go a long toward sustaining key parts of the local recreation economy, including a commitment by Denver Water to maintain Dillon Reservoir at summertime levels that enable marina operations. Read the full agreement here. A shorter six page summary is online here.
Essentially, Denver Water says it will keep the reservoir at an elevation of at least 9,012 feet (five feet below full) for the summer. This link goes to Denver Water’s press release on the deal.
They won’t take water from Dillon to raise levels in another reservoir like Chatfield … Dillon Reservoir will have preference when it comes to recreational uses,” Summit County manager Gary Martinez said.
The water-level provision was important because modeling of future reservoir operations showed that Denver Water would have to draw Dillon down earlier to meet Front Range water needs.
“The prospect of dry marinas got people excited,” Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen said while previewing the agreement a few days before the April 28 public announcement.
Similarly, Denver Water has made a firm commitment to maintain stream flows in the Blue River below Dillon Dam, critical to the productive Gold Medal fishery in Silverthorne. Only in cases of extreme drought, when Denver Water has completely banned all outdoor watering, could they drop those flows below a state-mandated minimum stream flow of 50 cubic feet per second.
“It’s a big deal for Silverthorne … They (Denver Water) had lots of outs,” Martinez said. Prior to the new agreement, the language allowed Denver Water to drop the level to below 50 cfs if the inflow into the reservoir was below that level, he explained. Now, that 50 cfs is guaranteed in all but the most serious drought situations.
The deal also gives all four ski areas in Summit County more water for snowmaking through exchanges in various reservoirs, notably Green Mountain and Clinton Gulch. The Clinton Gulch Reservoir agreement will be amended to allow for enlargement of the spillway and use of dead-pool water in the storage bucket along Tenmile Creek.
Altogether, Denver Water will provide 1,493 acre-feet of exchange water to various Summit County water users and ski areas, as well as 250 acre-feet of water without charge for use in districts and towns in Summit County.
The deal also involves some cash — $11 million for projects such as wastewater treatment plant improvements, environmental enhancements, and local water and sewer projects.
Gagen said some of the money could go toward helping well water users who are legally forbidden from using that water outdoors, unless they can find a replacement source. The challenge has been finding augmentation water in certain parts of Summit County.
More money could flow into Summit County from a charge that Denver Water will impose on water that it sells to new customers outside its existing service area. Some of those funds would be earmarked directly for forest restoration projects, Martinez said.
Some other bon boons for Summit County include cooperation with Frisco to augment use of well water for snowmaking at the town’s adventure park. Frisco has plenty of water rights, but when they were decreed, the snowmaking use was not included.
The agreement also eases restrictions on Silverthorne’s rights to 300 acre-feet of water in Dillon Reservoir and permits additional use of the Montezuma shaft of the Roberts Tunnel on a case by case basis. The Montezuma shaft is an access point for maintenance to the tunnel. Keystone has been able to access water through the shaft to supplement flows in the Snake River during snowmaking season. The new agreement could open the door for some other similar uses.
More information and documents are online at the Colorado River Water Conservation District website.
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