Front Range thirsty for state’s water

GUNNISON, Colo. – One of the ongoing dramas in Colorado has been where the burgeoning Front Range population will get additional stores of water for the continuing – and projected – population growth. Many conservation gains have been realized, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has called for a dramatic effort to sustain and increase efficiencies.

However, Denver and other Front Range cities hope to get more water from existing transmountain diversion systems in the Winter Park, Granby and Dillon areas, as well as the Vail and possibly the Aspen areas. But looking into the future, water planners are looking even farther afield, possibly at Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte-Gunnison.

The best shot may be at Blue Mesa Reservoir. The legality, however, remains a sticky political and legal issue. Just downstream is a national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Usually, the federal government asserts something called federal reserve water rights. The logic is that, for a national park (or national forest) to operate, it needs water. So, the federal government claims a water right based on the date of the land withdrawal. In the case of Black Canyon, that would be 1933, which would make it a fairly senior water right.

Instead, the Department of Interior settled negotiations with Colorado’s state government by filing for a water right dating to 2003, a fairly junior water right. Former Gunnison County Commissioner Marlene Zanetell told theCrested Butte Newsthat the water right was merely sufficient to keep fish alive.

Several environmental organizations are trying to block the Interior Department settlement. “The government is abandoning its duty to protect the park,” said Wendy McDermott, executive director of the Crested Butte-based High Country Citizens Alliance. “Water is an important part of the hydrograph (or historic flows), which is important to the river and the park.”

A decision on this case is expected in about two months, but it is only among the first of many court cases expected in this matter. The court record is already 14,000 pages long.

Telluride airport expansion okayed

TELLURIDE – The airport expansion at Telluride has received environmental approvals, allowing design work to commence. Actual construction is expected to begin next spring.

The airport, just a few miles from Telluride, must rank among the most spectacular of airport locations, even in beautiful locales of the West. It is also extremely unusual in its physical limitations. The runway dips in the middle, 45 feet lower than at one end and 63 feet lower than the other end.

In addition to that, the runway is also shorter than what airport boosters would like. It is 6,870 feet long. But a flatter, longer runway – up to 7,320 feet long – would more safely accommodate the private jets that now use it, plus a few commercial jets. Currently, some of those planes land at Montrose, 70 miles away.

The Telluride Watch notes that the federal government expects to pay 95 percent of the estimated $50 million, with local sources responsible for the balance. Part of the cost is because the airport is located on a mesa, with falloffs on both sides. As such, a 150-foot-tall retaining wall must be built to hold the extension.

Canary Initiative gets big press

ASPEN – Aspen’s bold bid to carry the torch for global warming is getting noticed. The Canary Initiative, as the town’s program is called, got a mention inTimemagazine last spring. On a recent Friday night, just before a segment about “Brides Bare it All,” Aspen’s program was featured on “Nightline.

The story is becoming a familiar one. Town attorney John Worscester, driving in a car one day, listening to radio talk guy Rush Limbaugh rail about the global warming nuts, had an idea. Why, he wondered, shouldn’t Aspen use its platform as arguably America’s best known resort to direct attention to the issue?

As an affluent resort, Aspen is and always has been a major contributor of greenhouse gases. Travel is a huge cause of green house gases, and jet travel especially so. At the same time, the community has been notably ambitious in the last 20 years in attempting to curve dependence away from fossil fuels.

Still, any place so dependent on travel is bound to be an energy hog. A study undertaken by the town found that Aspen residents and visitors account for twice as many greenhouse gases per capita than is the average for U.S. residents.

But while Aspen is doing small things to mend its ways, such as encouraging more use of hybrid vehicles, it still sees its primary value as being a platform. To that end, a major conference is scheduled for Oct. 11-13, which is being pitched to other resort towns and gateway communities. It’s not something for the light-of-wallet, though. The base price is $600, not including lodging.

Aspen home listed at $125 million

CARBONDALE – Land sales in the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley continue to provide jaw-dropping numbers. The most recent big sale was a 949-acre ranch south of Carbondale that has sold for $47 million. That works out to almost $50,000 an acre.

Getting far more attention last week was the announcement that the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States is selling his 56,000-square-foot home near Aspen. The home, along with some property, is being listed for $125 million.

Early reports indicated that’s the highest price tag ever on a home, trumping even the Floridian beach-front digs of The Donald, as the real-estate Trump is often called. However, there were also reports that the widow of TV mogul Aron Spelling is asking $150 million for a 56,500-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles.

Aside from bragging rights or whatever the opposite of that may be, one vital question for Aspen is whether the ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, will continue his largess. In the past, he has given to the local hospital, youth center and other causes. He said he plans to continue visiting Aspen and will retain part of the estate.

Park takes new tactic on roadkill

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Every year more roadkill in Grand Teton National Park is recorded. Last year, 145 animals were hit, a figure well more than double that from 2000, reports theJackson Hole News & Guide.

Among the dead were 46 elk, 43 deer, 14 coyotes, eight moose, seven bison and four bears. Other victims in the past have been grizzly bears and wolves, plus owls, badgers and sage grouse.

No theories were reported to explain this rapid increase, but several potential solutions are in the works. One of them is a sequence of signs: We saw wildlife / From afar / ‘Til we hit them /With our car / Slow down!”

Older people will recall them as similar to the Burma Shave signs of the 1940s and 1950s. Younger people may think this a relative to hip-hop.

Winter Park plumbing gets complex

WINTER PARK – The water system at Winter Park is becoming ever more complex. The simple cause is that the water supply is finite, but demand for its use continues to grow, both for local construction and from Denver, which diverts much of the local water already.

Among the ideas still being considered is a pumping system. Water toward the bottom end of the town would be pumped back to the top end. While water officials are not particularly worried about having enough water in a normal year, they do worry about being able to meet the needs of all the projected development during droughts.

The Winter Park Manifest reports that water and sanitation district officials are also investigating the potential of tapping wells during drought years.

Meanwhile, the ski area also has plans to expand its snowmaking system. Adapting an idea first put into place at Beaver Creek, the ski area would pump water into an on-mountain reservoir. This, reports theManifest, would allow the ski area to make up to five times as much snow.

One targeted area for expanded snowmaking is Mary Jane, which traditionally has had little snowmaking. Under the management of Intrawest, Winter Park is mowing down more of the moguls at Mary Jane and in other ways making it more accessible to intermediate-level skiers.

Crested Butte abandons dog posts

CRESTED BUTTE – Based on a report from Telluride, Crested Butte is abandoning the idea of dog “hitching-posts” at public places such as the post office.

“I talked with the Telluride mayor, and he said people get bit all the time,” said Crested Butte Mayor Alan Bernholtz, citing a similar idea implemented in Telluride.

– compiled by Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows