Western US water rights (eg Snowmaking)

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Western US water rights (eg Snowmaking)

Postby EMSC » Thu Oct 31, 2019 11:18 am

This is just meant to be an illustrative example of how complex western water rights are. It's a long post, but a complex topic. I'm working in generalities below. there are many exceptions to the rule and each state has somewhat different rules as well (and even their own Water Courts for adjudicating disputes given the complexities and importance of water in the western US.

I can't say I know much about other countries, but the Western US has a general lack of water relative to how much various groups would like to use. The general principle is that rights to use water ended up being a time based usage of the water. Whoever started using water from a particular river or creek first got the rights to use it and to use it in the volumes that they started taking it. A secondary principle has been that you must continue to use it for a "beneficial purpose". That language in the past always meant things like agriculture, city/population usage, industry (ski resorts would be here). Eventually all the water everywhere has been claimed by someone. Now, rights to the usage of water that were established long ago are bought and sold and traded and are very expensive. Generally the only ones buying are city water systems or industries/corporations. And generally the ones selling water rights are farmers.

Yes there are some wells in use, but that number is dwindling quickly as the underground aquifers are drying up due to over usage during the past century.

Related to this is that in the western US it is nearly always common to have 3 separate land rights and rarely are they combined in a single sale. the physical usage of the land itself, Mineral rights that exist underneath the land and Water rights. What does that mean? It means that someone can buy the rights to drill for oil underneath the 'land' you own with your house and (this differs by state a bit), it means that until a couple years ago us house dwellers were not allowed to install a rain barrel to capture water. We didn't own the rights to the water, someone else did. Current Colo law allows you to capture rainwater (eg off your roof), but only for outdoor usage of landscaping/gardens. eg the water has to go back into the ground when you use it, not down the sewer pipe.

So with that bit of context, Below is the water rights for Eldora in Colorado as outlined in their own 2010 Master Plan. A cobbled together list of multiple rights of different sizes and diversions, etc... Every resort has a unique history of rights and size. There is no way to generalize.

One should know that Eldora was at 175 acres and was planning to move to 225 acres of snowmaking in the Master Plan. I'm not aware of any major changes to water rights since this plan.

The domestic water system for all of the base area buildings and facilities is a private system operated by a special district. The system consists of the Tank House, which is a buried concrete vault with 96,000 gallon storage capacity, the Jenny Creek vault which supplies surface water to the system and a back-up pump which runs on a gen set. The system is adequate for current demand.

Eldora Mountain Resort’s water supply is derived from the Middle Boulder Creek basin and the South Boulder Creek basin, in Boulder County and Gilpin County, Colorado. In total, Eldora owns or leases approximately 60.41 acre feet of fully reusable consumptive use credits in the Howard Ditch, the most senior water right on South Boulder Creek. These rights have been changed for use in Eldora’s resort operations in Case Nos. W-7786-74, 02CW400 and 07CW231 (pending). In addition, Eldora has 299 acre feet of junior fully reusable water storage rights, in Kettle Pond (40 acre feet, Case No. 02CW400) and Peterson Lake (259 acre feet, Case No. 09CW106 [pending]), as well as single-use water rights in Peterson Lake (259 acre feet, Case No. 82CW239) and Lake Eldora (33.3 acre feet, Case No. 92CW153). Accordingly, Eldora has a total of approximately 332.3 acre feet of water storage rights.15 In addition, Eldora owns a surface diversion known as the Jenny Creek Pipeline water right (0.20 c.f.s., decreed in Case No. W324).

Fully reusable water is generally used in the resort’s snowmaking operations. This water is diverted, stored in the on-mountain storage, and then pumped from storage for snowmaking. After the first use of its fully reusable water, Eldora recaptures the return flows, either directly, such as when the man-made snow melts into Peterson Lake and other on-mountain storage each spring, or by exchange up Middle Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek, for those return flows that do not accrue directly into the on-mountain storage structures. The small amount of in-house commercial and landscape irrigation uses (2 to 3 acre feet annually, combined) are typically supplied via the Jenny Creek Pipeline water right. The Water Court has approved an augmentation plan for the resort (Case No. 02CW400), which allows Eldora the flexibility to divert water out of priority and replace the depletions with its senior fully reusable consumptive use credits (60.41 acre feet). This augmentation plan, which utilizes storage and senior consumptive use credits, provides a reliable and dependable water supply for the resort.
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