Settlement called 'first step in a larger process'
Environmentalists said the settlement is an important victory for the rivers and the West Slope. Drew Peternell, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, said the agreement comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled this fall that cities must begin to limit how much water they can claim for future growth. http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/nov/30/eagle-river-deal-secures-water-for-growing-vail/
By Jerd Smith, Rocky Mountain News Friday, November 30, 2007
Vail and other communities in the fast-growing Eagle River Basin won a key victory this week in a deal that protects streamflows and effectively guarantees that no more water from the scenic stream will be transferred to the Front Range.
The agreement was reached as a settlement in a bitter year-long court battle between the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and Denver Water, the state's largest water utility.
The deal allows Denver to hold onto a valued reservoir site north of Wolcott and to preserve some of its water rights for use in trades on the West Slope.
In exchange, Denver gave up the rights to thousands of acre-feet of Eagle River water it had once planned to bring across the Continental Divide. "Now we have certainty that there is no longer a threat of a large transmountain diversion yet to be developed," said Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, a party to the case.
"With confidence, the Eagle Basin can look to the future and know that nobody with a large water right is going to come in," Treese said.
The settlement comes as Denver and other Front Range and West Slope entities, such as Grand and Summit counties, remain deadlocked over how to protect supplies in the headwaters of the Upper Colorado River, which includes the Blue and Fraser rivers, as well as the Eagle.
All the rivers serve high-profile resort areas, such as Keystone and Winter Park, as well as Vail and Beaver Creek, and all need water for their own growth, for recreation and for the health of the rivers themselves.
Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, a critic of Denver Water in the past, said this time the giant utility deserves some credit for agreeing to give up the Eagle River water. "We're fighting for all the water we can get up here," Newberry said. "For Denver to do that, they're stepping up to the plate."
Treese and others said this week's Eagle River Settlement may help break the stalemate in the Upper Colorado because it provides certainty about demands on the Eagle River and restores some good will between Denver and its longtime adversaries. "The most important thing about all of this is that this is a first step in a larger process," Treese said.
Environmentalists said the settlement is an important victory for the rivers and the West Slope. Drew Peternell, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, said the agreement comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled this fall that cities must begin to limit how much water they can claim for future growth.
"I think, after that decision this fall, that Denver knew it would have lost either at the trial or Supreme Court level if it continued (the court battle)," Peternell said.
Tom Gougeon, president of Denver Water, disagrees with the notion that the West Slope prevailed in this dispute. "The point here isn't about keeping score," he said. "There are a lot of people here trying to figure things out. This settlement was the right thing to do."