The city in July announced a major new development in the ongoing controversy over what to do about conditional water rights held since the 1960s for dams and reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The city since last year has been fighting in water court to keep the water rights alive. Despite assurances that the environmentally damaging dams would be a last resort, city officials are seeking to hang on to the ability to pursue some kind of water storage in the future, should the existing creek-drawn supply falter in the face of climate change.
A strategy has emerged to identify alternate water storage sites or methods that could meet those long term needs and then seek a transfer of those Castle and Maroon creek rights to that site.
The July announcement signified that the city believed it had found its preferred site: a 56-acre plot located next door to the gravel pit in Woody Creek. The city had it under contract to purchase for $2.65 million. Never mind that the site, 7 miles downstream from the water treatment plant, would require expensive infrastructure to pump water uphill, or elusive agreement with other water rights holders that would allow the theoretical Woody Creek reservoir to support more city water use upstream.
To fund the acquisition, the city sought to take out general obligation bonds, which require taxpayer approval. The measure went before voters in November and lost by 10 points. The city had already signaled at that point that if the bonds were not approved, it would find another way to pay for the land purchase. Officials moved to make good on that pledge weeks after the vote when city council agreed to take a loan from the Wheeler Opera House’ well-funded endowment.
The city is expected to complete the transaction in early 2018. Actually developing water storage on the site will be a much more complicated matter, requiring legal maneuvers that could go on for years. Actually building a reservoir, which officials project might not happen for decades, would cost up to $80 million. If combined with the gravel pit next door, the site could store up to 8,000 acre feet.