Briefs from Central Colorado

Brief by Central Staff

Water – April 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Big Plans For Central Colorado Water

These days, it seems like a lot of people are developing plans for our region’s water.

There Are Water Bankers

Aurora recently revealed a new plan to divert South Park water. Or, as the Denver Post put it, “Aurora wants to invest in South Park water bank.”

According to the proposal, Aurora would tap into an aquifer near Como which contains about 16 million acre feet of subsurface water, and could then take about 20,000 acre feet per year. But the plan also features a replenishment system.

If approved, the plan would allow Aurora to pump water out of the mountain aquifer in dry years, and replace it in wet years. Details on exactly how water could be returned, (whether by pond and seepage, or by pumping it back in), are still being worked out, however — while residents near Como are left to worry about whether their wells might go dry.

On March 10, Save Park County, a citizen’s alliance, met with State Senator Linda Powers in a public meeting to discuss Aurora’s plans. Whereupon, they concluded that such a water project was far too risky and wholly undesirable. Now, the group hopes to persuade the Park County Commissioners to act decisively to halt Aurora’s plans.

All in all, it sounds like a pretty odd investment system — one formed by the borrowers, who get to repay at their convenience without paying interest. Water banking sounds ideal for the borrower, but not surprisingly, the lenders are not convinced.

And Water Barons

Colorado Springs was back in Chaffee County again — talking about Elephant Rock dam. This dam has been proposed and beaten down, and revived and protested, and rejuvenated and disputed, time and time again. And they’re back…

According to Springs representatives, the reservoir is one of their less favored options regarding water, due to costs and citizen objections. But the Springs is growing and the city doesn’t have enough water, which means that Colorado Springs will fight for a dam if other water storage plans don’t work.

Perhaps, however, Colorado Springs could address the fact that, with or without Elephant Rock Dam, eventually all of us will run out of water — if we do nothing to address unlimited growth and usage.

And Water Users

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Colorado had broken a 1948 pact with Kansas by taking too much water. And therefore, a newly signed Colorado law, and tough new well restrictions were enacted.

Since the new rules threatened to severely reduce or shut down as many as 1,500 wells, farmers in the lower Arkansas River Valley scrambled to obtain new water rights — or at least most farmers did. Six families, however, filed suit, claiming that the state’s rulings constituted a “takings” that imposed undue hardship upon them.

“They have built farms, broken out land, created their homes and their families on the basis of using wells to irrigate their crops,” Castle Rock lawyer Kevin Pratt claimed. Thus, after going all the way to the supreme court, the Colorado-Kansas water feuds resumed before any new rules could go into effect.

At this point, Colorado hasn’t quite figured out how it will correct its overusage problem — or how it will eventually repay Kansas. But by now, everyone in Colorado knows that our water quarrels will continue.

Historically, one thing is obvious: When a lot of people feel that they absolutely need the exact same water — court resolutions don’t change their minds.

Growing, Growing, Grown

During the first half of the 1990s, Park and Custer Counties were among the nation’s top ten counties in growth.

Park County had a 51 percent growth rate, which made it the fourth fastest growing county in the U.S. with a 3,976 population gain (from 10,589 to 14,565 residents).

Whereas Custer County was 10th, with 2,702 residents, up from 1,926. That’s a 40.3 percent increase, and a gain of 776 residents.

Wet Mountain Ski Resort Closes For All Seasons

The Hermit Basin ski area, formerly known as Conquistador, formerly known as Mountain Cliffe (and known as “Mudcliffe” in some circles, is liberating its ski runs. Due to weather and other factors, the ski area was closed as often as not during its 25 years of operation — and now the slopes will be returned to the deer and elk.

The Forest Service has agreed to issue a permit to remove lifts and improvements, whereupon the San Carlos District of the San Isabel National Forest will reclaim the land for wildlife habitat. At the same time, Hermit Basin Lodge plans to expand its conference center facilities, and operate as a four-season resort on its seventy privately owned acres.

Conquistador joins several other “ghost ski areas” in the area.

Once upon a time, White Pine had ski lifts, as did Climax (an employee fringe benefit for a company town). The Historical Atlas of Colorado also shows a “Pioneer” ski area near Crested Butte, as well as Glen Cove near Colorado Springs.

Camp Hale had lifts which evolved into Ski Cooper. And, lest we forget, in 1937 Marshall Pass was a ski area, from the apex down the west side to Tank Seven. The lift was a narrow-gauge excursion train.