Front Range eyes mountain water

GUNNISON – Mountain towns in the Rockies have a symbiotic relationship with Denver and other cities along Colorado’s urbanized, Front Range corridor. It is typically also one of ambivalence. But the need of Front Range cities for water causes continuing tension, with reverberations as far away as Jackson, Wyo.

Native water supplies were proving inadequate even 125 years ago, when farmers discovered they had insufficient water during late summer to finish their crops. To accommodate their needs, creeks from the western side off the Continental Divide, in the area of Rocky Mountain National Park, were diverted eastward.

Since then, the headwaters areas from Granby southward to Winter Park, Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen, have become configured with an intricate labyrinth of ditches, reservoirs, canals and tunnels, all with the intent of achieving what historian (and Telluride native) David Lavender described as a “massive violation of geography.”

The drought of 2002 provoked an even greater intensity of focus. So do projections that show the state’s population doubling by the year 2050, with four-fifths of that growth occurring along the Front Range.

One idea still being studied calls for pumping water from Green Mountain Reservoir, located on the Blue River, about 20 miles away to Dillon Reservoir for diversion to Denver. A compensatory dam on the Eagle River west of Vail might be the quid pro quo to the Western Slope.

Other ideas look at more distant sources. Aaron Million proposes to withdraw water from the Green River, which starts in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, an hour or two south of Jackson. The river briefly enters Colorado before continuing down to a confluence with the Colorado River near Moab. As such, Million says, Colorado is entitled to the water from the Green as per river compacts reached in 1922 and 1948. But Wyoming isn’t so sure. Even people in Jackson, who would be unaffected, have been testy about the idea.

Another idea calls for a diversion from the Yampa River, about 65 miles west of Steamboat Springs. The Yampa is tributary to the Green.

Still another thought sees a potential water source in Blue Mesa Reservoir, west of Gunnison. The water, some 200,000 acre-feet annually, might not actually be withdrawn from the reservoir; but the water stored within the reservoir might be appropriated for diversion to the Front Range.

Recently, reports theCrested Butte News, state representatives visited water district officials in the Gunnison area to talk about the long-term big picture. Harris Sherman, the executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said the state needed to be looking “20, 30, 40 years out.”

Complicating the picture is the likelihood of reduced water supplies because of warming temperatures and changed precipitation patterns. While scientists remain uncertain, one study at Colorado State University sees a 2 to 20 percent reduction in flows of the upper Colorado River, Sherman noted.

None of the world’s problems were solved at the meeting. But, from the report in theNews, it was an uncommonly good one for quotes. Consider the remarks of Steve Glazer, a long-time water activist from Crested Butte. “There are a plethora of poison pills here,” he said.

Aspen and Telluride take a tumble

ASPEN – Nothing in the numbers being reported in the Aspen area suggests that the economy there has started a comeback. In fact, it is very much the opposite.

Sales tax collections through the first four months of the year in Aspen were down 20 percent. At nearby Snowmass Village, the drop was more precipitous, 30 percent, while real estate transfer tax collections were down 80 percent.

The Aspen Times says that dollar volume for real estate sales across Pitkin County was off 30 percent compared to 2008 – which ended up being the lowest-volume year since 2004. Down-valley in Garfield County, where the resort economy intersects with the now-faltering boom in natural gas, real estate sales volume was down 80 percent.

In Telluride, the story is the same: sales tax revenues this year have been down 12 to 15 percent, and the real-estate transfer tax at year’s end may total only $750,000, compared to $5 million just two years ago.

Inexplicably, the story in Jackson, Wyo., seems to be different, at least in regard to retail sales, which have been down only 3 percent. Moreover, theJackson Hole News&Guide reports

hope among locals that the economy in Teton County will actually start growing again. Visitation to Yellowstone, after being down for several years, has actually been up 11 percent this year, and at Grand Teton National Park it was even.

Vail expands runway for the big birds

GYPSUM, Colo. – Eagle County Regional Airport has been closed for the summer while the runway gets extended 1,000 feet. The airport accommodates traffic primarily to the Vail and Beaver Creek area, but also has become a significant portal for Aspen-Snowmass visitors.

When completed, the 9,000-foot-long runway will be better able to accommodate jets flying from distant cities, including New York City. Because of the relatively high elevation, about 6,500 feet, and mountain topography, larger planes taking off from the airport during warmer, summer months cannot carry full passenger loads. This decreases the companies’ revenue. A longer runway will also accommodate longer flights during winter, theoretically even from Europe.

As it has for much of the work at the airport during the last quarter-century, the Federal Aviation Administration will pick up 95 percent of the $22 million cost. Compared with the airport at Aspen, where the largest jet holds no more than 74 passengers, many jets at Eagle County Regional have room for up to 194 passengers

Solar installations likely to slow down

CARBONDALE – While other construction hands have been looking for work, installers of solar panels were working overtime through much of 2009 in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. But now that work will likely slow down, too.

The problem, explainsThe Aspen Times, is that several organizations that were providing rebates to consumers installing photovoltaic panels have already exhausted their budgets.

For example, when Holy Cross Energy debuted its incentive program in 2004, nobody took advantage of the credits. But last year, 55 projects got rebates. This year, 92 projects had been allocated credits by the end of May.

Causing the surge this year was an additional stimulus, a change in the federal tax code, which added another inducement: a tax credit equal to 30 percent of a solar PV installation cost, minus any rebates.

Steamboat may ban real estate signs

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Real estate agent Michelle Avery says all real-estate signs should be prohibited by the city’s sign code. “Other resort towns have adopted this ordinance, and I feel strongly that Steamboat should do the same,” she writes inThe Steamboat Pilot & Today. “Simple stated, the signs are an eyesore.”

A slew of website bloggers beg to differ. One blogger, Ralph Cantafio, contends that outright elimination for aesthetic reasons is simply inappropriate. “Government should be very careful to use only reasonable restrictions,” he writes. Part of his reasoning is that eliminating signs eliminates communication, free communication being a hallmark of a democratic society.

Raises pitched for Jackson teachers

JACKSON, Wyo. – Teachers in Jackson and Teton County may get raises next year, with the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree moving up to $54,500, while one with a master’s degree getting not quite $60,000.

In Colorado’s Summit County, base pay for teachers will be at $37,000 during the next academic year. In Aspen, the beginning pay is $40,200. In the Carbondale-Glenwood Springs area, it will be $35,000.

Mammoth could be on the ‘move’

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. –The Sheet, with a touch of sarcasm, reports on a recent economic development meeting in Mammoth Lakes, at which one speaker suggested a slogan for the community: “Mammoth on the Move.”

For a logo, however, she stops short of suggesting a U-Haul truck, says the newspaper.

The town seems to have its fair share of vacant lots and boarded-up buildings. One of the proposals is to erect signs on vacant lots saying, “Future Site of Mixed Use Development.”

Good enough, said one council member, as long as the signs give no completion dates.

– 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