Water battle unlikely to end soon
GLENWOOD SPRINGS A trial deciding the fate of much of the water in Eagle County will be delayed until at least July and possibly even November.Testimony is close to wrapping up in the so-called Denver Diligence case, in which local water managers are challenging Denvers water rights in the Eagle River watershed. The trial was scheduled to finish this week. However, one witness for the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District couldnt be fit in the six scheduled court dates this month.Glenn Porzak, the districts attorney, said there are possible dates to finish in July, but if those dont work, the only guaranteed dates are in November. Denver will also want a day for rebuttal, he said.No matter when the trial finishes, Porzak said its unlikely the judge will come back with a quick verdict.In the 1960s, the city and county of Denver bought up water rights on the Western Slope, including hundreds of thousands of acres in the Eagle River watershed. To keep water though, you have to use it or at least prepare to use it in the future. Hoarding unneeded water isnt allowed in Colorado.Every six years, Denver goes through the paper shuffle of water court to prove its being diligent in using the water in some way or another. This is also a chance for someone to challenge those rights.The Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District pounced on that opportunity in 2002, arguing that Denver doesnt need the water and hasnt done enough to keep those water rights. Instead, that water should stay local, they say.Denver is interested in close to 200,000 acre feet of water between Vail and Wolcott, which planners say is part of their long-term vision for providing water to residents, a plan that reaches past 2030. They say people who dont plan that far ahead are caught without water and that water projects in metro areas take a long time to finish.They cite a water right purchased in 1902 and developed in the 1980s as an example.The big question will be if Denver has done enough in 35 years to prove that it can and will use the water rights in the Vail Valley.Porzak has said theres little to show for their planning meaning they havent shown diligence in developing the water.Denver Water hasnt started tunneling ditches or laying down pipes, but they say hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in surveys and studies on developing a large reservoir in Wolcott as well as interests on the Piney River, north of Vail.Local water officials say Denver wont need that much water and will be in fact hoarding a valuable commodity. They argue that Denver is speculating with the water rights and may sell the water to developing communities near Denver for which they arent responsible.If eventually Denver does 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, which provides the recreational lifeblood of the local economy, Porzak has said.
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