Last century’s data a stumbling point for Whitney Reservoir
You don’t have to be Brad Udall — the renowned Colorado State University water and climate scientist — to know that streamflow conditions occurring between 1945 and 1994 no longer exist.
That was one takeaway from an event held last week in the Homestake Valley, high in the Eagle River basin near Red Cliff, hosted by a watershed education organization to help sort out the issues surrounding a potential new dam and reservoir project that could would send more water to the growing Front Range cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora. Known as Whitney Reservoir, named for a tributary creek flowing into Homestake Creek near the potential damsite, the new bucket would be about 5 miles downstream from the existing, 43,600-acre-foot Homestake Reservoir. Conceptual configurations show a size range for the new reservoir of between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet. Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett attended the event, which included a hike to get a better view of the geography, and filed a story — “Homestake hike highlights uncertainties of proposed reservoir project” — that also appeared in the Vail Daily and Aspen Times.
While the cities are still in the midst of a geotechnical feasibility investigation and have yet to submit a formal application to develop the new reservoir, local concerns are focused on whether there is enough water in the basin, already depleted by transmountain diversions, to send more under the Continental Divide.
Ken Neubecker, a Western Slope river advocate who has served on the Colorado Basin Roundtable, shared a presentation at the Homestake Valley event breaking down the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding. Parties with potential interest in developing the basin’s water, including the Front Range cities and Western Slope interests, signed the agreement in 1998, laying out how much water various entities could seek to develop. The agreement gives the Front Range cities the basis to pursue up to another 20,000 acre-feet a year. Whitney Reservoir is key to realizing those ambitions.
The problem, as explained by Neubecker, is that those allocations are based on streamflow records from 1945 to 1994. In the years since 1994, the impacts of a warming climate and shrinking snowpacks have made those average streamflows outdated, so it follows that projections for how much new water could be developed out of the basin must also be revisited.
The event also included a presentation from Aurora Water, whose representatives noted the strides they have made in conserving water, including offering rebates for high-efficiency toilets, water-wise landscaping and irrigation efficiency.
Public relations representative Greg Baker also acknowledged a need to apply current hydrological conditions to the terms of the MOU, but said it is too early to even attempt such a calculation until the geotechnical study sheds more light on the project’s feasibility.
It would indeed be a long road to design a new major reservoir and get it through the approval process, which is sure to attract fierce opposition. Aspen Journalism has been covering the potential for a new reservoir in the Homestake Valley since 2015, and we look forward to providing in-depth news on this project for years to come.
Also this week, our latest data dashboard has a new feature tracking local soil moisture levels, which partially caught up to the recent five-year average after starting out the year in very dry territory. And Tracking the Curve, our COVID-19 data tracking project, continues to report daily case counts and other relevant information coming out of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. With 20 new resident cases over the weekend, Pitkin currently has the highest seven-day incidence rate among the three counties, as a new indoor mask mandate — which has not been enacted by either Garfield or Eagle counties — takes hold.
Thank you for reading, and supporting, Aspen Journalism.
— Curtis Wackerle, editor
MOU may be based on outdated hydrology
By Heather Sackett | September 16, 2021
Some who attended the hike — which attracted about 20 people — questioned the concept of taking more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities in the face of a climate change-fueled crisis.
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | September 21, 2021
Eagle County reported 39 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Garfield County added 16 cases and Pitkin County reported 10 cases, as well as one new COVID-19-related fatality, rising the county’s total death count to 5.
By Laurine Lassalle | September 21, 2021
• Upper Roaring Fork streamflow at 55% of average, but dropped even lower on Sept. 16.
• 2021 began the year with dry soils, which led to decreased runoff and streamflow in the spring.
• Lake Powell surface level drops another foot to 3,547.1.
“Proof of vaccination will be required for guests ages 12 and over at all indoor, on-mountain quick-service (cafeteria-style) restaurants, and the requirement includes guests 12 and over in ski and ride school programs that include lunch. The proof of vaccination requirement does not apply to fine dining establishments like The 10th at Vail.”
Source: vaildaily.com | Read more
“The (Breckenridge) town council, in an effort town leaders described as a way ‘to protect our quality of life and the fabric of our community’ and ‘fiercely protect the character of Breckenridge,’ on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2,200-property cap on so-called exempt short-term rentals in the town.”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
“‘The dual challenge in agriculture is struggling to survive at the industry level, but more importantly at the individual level, especially this year when folks are going out of business. We’re doing a lot of work on mental health because of the impacts,’ said Kate Greenberg, state agriculture commissioner.”
Source: denverpost.com | Read more
“Alterra Mountain Co. has not discussed its 2020 losses following the state government ordered shutdown of 15 ski resorts in California, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, Utah, Vermont and Canada in mid-March. The lawsuit filed last week pins the losses at ‘more than $200 million.’”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
“For a one-bedroom unit, the town (of Winter Park) will give property owners who choose to rent to an employee working at least 35 hours a week in Winter Park or Frasier $5,000 for a six-month lease and $10,000 for a yearlong lease. For a two- or three-bedroom unit, the town will give $10,000 for a six-month lease and $20,000 for a year’s lease.”
Source: steamboatpilot.com | Read more
“One measurement is the Eagle County Census Tract 3.01, which includes the high-density neighborhoods at the core of El Jebel (El Jebel Mobile Home Park, Blue Lake subdivision, Summit Vista and Sopris Village), as well as lower-density surrounding areas that include the parts of Emma and Missouri Heights in Eagle County. Tract 3.01 grew by 616 people, or 10.6%, between 2010 and 2020, according to the Census Bureau.”
Source: aspentimes.com | Read more
“If Pitkin County’s seven-day incidence rate remains in the CDC’s low or moderate transmission levels for 21 consecutive days the indoor mask requirement will automatically be lifted. However, if Pitkin County’s seven-day incidence rate returned to substantial or high levels for five consecutive days the indoor mask requirement would be automatically reimplemented.”
Source: aspendailynews.com | Read more
“The study, published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that higher levels of rare earth elements — a group of chemically similar metals — are ending up in Colorado’s water supply due to lower stream flows caused by drought and a shrinking winter snowpack.”
Source: hch.prg | Read more
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