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Feds will consider expanding Turquoise and Pueblo reservoirs

Brief by Central Staff

Water – September 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

When Congress goes back into session after the August recess, it may be making some big water decisions for Central Colorado.

House Bill 1714, introduced by three Colorado representatives, would instruct the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to study the expansion of two reservoirs: Turquoise, near Leadville; and Pueblo, along the Arkansas River between Cañon City and its namesake city.

The main mover on the Pueblo expansion is the Colorado Springs water department, which has wanted more storage for years.

About a decade ago, the Springs was promoting Elephant Rock Dam as a way to solve its storage needs. The proposed dam site, across the Arkansas River a few miles north of Buena Vista, inspired fervent opposition in Chaffee County.

And there were some who suspected that Elephant Rock was just a ploy by the Springs, in that Elephant Rock opponents would likely support an alternative — like expanding Pueblo Reservoir by raising its dam. And they’d support it so much that they’d help pay for it.

If that was the plan, it succeeded. Currently, storage rights in the reservoir are a year-to-year matter. But if the federal law were changed, then storage rights could be leased for 40-year terms, and those leasing the rights would pay enough to help cover some of the costs of reservoir expansion — and it would be cheaper than building their own storage facilities.

Among the water suppliers interested in coöperating with Colorado Springs and expanding Pueblo Reservoir are Salida, Pueblo, La Junta, Cañon City, Florence, and Fountain.

But there may not be much local coöperation on the other proposed reservoir expansion, which would add 20,000 acre feet of storage to Turquoise Lake by raising its level by five feet.

In Leadville, Lake County Commissioners went on record opposing the proposal when they were approached in June by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which operates the reservoir as part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project.

One concern is the loss of property-tax revenue if the feds acquire more land. Another was voiced by Edith Seppi, a long-time resident who remembers the last time the reservoir was expanded, in the 1960s.

Back then, Lake County was promised recreational amenities like boat docks and fishing piers that never materialized. Seppi told the Leadville Herald-Democrat that “We … were treated like dirt” then, and this time around, she plans to start fighting early.

Even if H.B. 1714 passes, it only authorizes a study. If it produces promising results, then there would be full-bore environmental assessments of the reservoir expansions. The earliest anticipated date for construction on Pueblo is 2009, and 2022 for Turquoise.