Denver gives up rights to Eagle River | AspenTimes.com

Denver gives up rights to Eagle River

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Water from Eagle County’s tourist-luring streams and rivers is no longer in danger of being piped to Denver.

Since the 1960s, Denver has held rights to much of the water flowing through the Eagle Valley and planned to use it for future customers on the Front Range. But in a legal agreement reached this week, Denver is giving up most of those rights.

The settlement comes just before lawyers went back to court to finish a trial that began this summer. Eagle County water managers were challenging the water rights held by Denver Water, which serves more than 1 million people in the metro area.

The Eagle River provides the recreational lifeblood for Eagle County, and having its water secured is important for the tourist-based economy that drives the area, said Glenn Porzak, attorney for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority.

“The outcome of this case is an incredible accomplishment for Eagle County residents and the entire West Slope” said Bob Warner, chairman of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

In the agreement, Denver does keep some water rights in Eagle County, and would also have the right to participate in a possible reservoir project in Wolcott that could benefit users on both sides of the state, Porzak said.

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Decades ago, the city and county of Denver bought up water rights on the Western Slope, including hundreds of thousands of water acres in Eagle County. To keep water, though, you have to use it – or at least prepare to use it in the future. Hoarding unneeded water isn’t allowed in Colorado.

Last year, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority sued Denver Water, arguing that Denver doesn’t need the water and hasn’t done enough to justify keeping those water rights. Instead, that water should stay in the local area, they said.

Denver argued in the trial that the water rights are part its long term vision for providing water to residents. They said people who don’t plan that far ahead are caught without water and that water projects in metro areas take a long time to finish, often citing a water right purchased in 1902 and developed in the 1980s as an example.

The big question was if Denver has done enough in 35 years to prove that it can and will use the water rights in Eagle County. Porzak had argued there’s little to show for their planning – meaning they haven’t shown diligence in developing uses for the water.

If Denver ever were to develop a reservoir and pipe the water to the Front Range, it would strip the majority of the water out of the Eagle River watershed, Porzak said.

The agreement will also help the drought-afflicted Colorado River, to which the Eagle River is a tributary.

“We hope this is the first step in what will be a much broader agreement among West Slope partners and the Front Range to address environmental, recreational and water supply needs on both sides of the Continental Divide,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

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