Aspen, Pitco balk at latestFront Range water dealings |

Aspen, Pitco balk at latestFront Range water dealings

Janet Urquhart

Pending federal legislation that smacks of a Front Range water grab may not get the desired endorsement of wary elected officials in Aspen and Pitkin County.The City Council and county commissioners were briefed Tuesday on the legislation known as PSOP, or Preferred Storage Options Plan, by attorney David Hallford, special counsel to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The district’s board could endorse PSOP when it meets today in Glenwood Springs, but it will do so without a nod of support from Aspen and Pitkin County – at least not yet.Southeastern Colorado is trying to push PSOP through Congress’ lame-duck session this fall, according to Hallford. The legislation would authorize a feasibility study of water storage needs in the area served by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which diverts Western Slope water from the upper Fryingpan/Hunter Creek drainage to the Front Range via Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville. PSOP would also authorize Front Range water users to store non-Fry-Ark water, as it’s called, in federal facilities such as Pueblo Reservoir and Turquoise Lake.The district has been asked to support PSOP by Front Range entities that hope the district’s backing will ensure unanimous support among Colorado’s congressional delegation.”They need congressional unanimity. We have a congressional veto, in effect,” Hallford said.The district, which represents Pitkin County and 14 other Western Colorado counties on water issues, wants to make sure Western Slope interests are met and specifically, that a long-time deal to keep water in the Roaring Fork River is honored, Hallford said. If those things can be accomplished, the district is willing to back PSOP.”There are advantages to making a deal,” he said.Local elected officials aren’t so sure, though. For one, they don’t want to see the Front Range gain added capacity in Pueblo Reservoir, for example, just so it can empty Twin Lakes and refill it with water from the Roaring Fork River drainage.The district won’t support that scenario, either, Hallford said. “How is this thing going to bite us in the butt later?” mused John Ely, county attorney, urging commissioners to proceed cautiously in endorsing the legislation.”Where will the additional water come from to fill these reservoirs once they’re approved?” added City Councilwoman Rachel Richards.Jilted in water dealAspen already has a beef with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. over water that is supposed to be left in the upper Roaring Fork, but isn’t.The canal company operates the Lost Man and Grizzly reservoirs east of Aspen, on Independence Pass, diverting water through a tunnel from the Roaring Fork drainage to Twin Lakes Reservoir on the far side of the pass. The water crosses beneath the Continental Divide. From Twin Lakes, it goes to various Front Range users; Colorado Springs is the largest shareholder.A deal dating back to 1961 requires Twin Lakes to refrain from diverting up to 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Roaring Fork to help maintain minimum flows in the river, which winds through Aspen. In return, Twin Lakes is to receive that amount of water from the Fry-Ark Project, which diverts water to Turquoise Lake, which then flows to Twin Lakes. The arrangement – leaving water in the Roaring Fork and taking it from the Fry-Ark instead – is known as the Twin Lakes Exchange.A 1978 agreement goes a step further: Unless the 3,000 acre-feet is left in the Roaring Fork, the Fry-Ark Project is supposed to take 3,000 acre-feet less than it could otherwise divert from the upper reaches of Hunter Creek.The canal company, however, has not been holding up its end of the bargain, according to Phil Overeynder, head of the city’s water and electric utilities. For the past 15 years, the exchange has delivered an average of about 1,700 acre-feet to the Roaring Fork. The Fry-Ark Project, on the other hand, has taken more than 3,000 acre-feet from the upper Hunter Creek drainage every year during that period, he said.Hunter Creek flows into the Roaring Fork below Aspen.Reinforcing the Twin Lakes Exchange will be one condition of the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s support of the PSOP legislation, Hallford said.Aspen, however, has reason to be leery, Overeynder said.”Why negotiate with someone who can’t make good on an agreement from 25 years ago?” he said.Aspen and the conservation district may have the leverage they need to enforce the exchange, according to Hallford, since the Front Range wants Aspen’s support for PSOP.”It’s Aspen that the Front Range is looking to, to support this Twin Lakes agreement or not, to support the PSOP or not,” Overeynder said.The canal company recently indicated it won’t operate the Twin Lakes Exchange if Aspen opposes PSOP, according to Overeynder. He contends the exchange, which has already been negotiated, shouldn’t be held hostage to gain the city’s support for the PSOP legislation.In the end, local elected officials urged the conservation district to make its support for PSOP conditional on an OK from Aspen and Pitkin County that will have to come later, after they’re certain local concerns are addressed.”I think it’s pretty clear this group is not keen on this legislation,” Hallford concluded.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is