Forest Service solicits comments on proposed Aurora dam near Holy Cross

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The Homestake Valley is near the Holy Cross Wilderness in Eagle County. 
Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | Conservationists and development boosters alike can now weigh in on the next phase of a city government-backed plan to build a new reservoir and divert water to Aurora taps. 

The White River National Forest opened a public comment period last week concerning the next phase of a would-be reservoir project dubbed the Whitney Reservoir. Water authorities in Colorado Springs and Aurora plan to divert water near the Vail Valley — normally destined for the Colorado River — to the Front Range by way of pumps and tunnels. 

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said in November the Whitney Reservoir could eventually hold between 9,000 acre-feet and 19,000 acre-feet of water.

For comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir stores more than 134,000 acre-feet. One acre-foot of water can supply three households in Aurora for a year, Baker said.

Members of the public can now comment on a possible next phase of the project: assessing whether various points in Homestake Creek, which flows from mountain sources near Red Cliff in Eagle County, could support a dam and reservoir. 

Aurora Water and its southern counterpart, Colorado Springs Utilities, applied for a Special Use Permit to do so. Geologists would conduct ground-level seismic analyses of the ground below and also drill up to 150 feet below the surface. Currently, the operation proposes ten drilling sites. 

The water could help Aurora meet the needs of a rapidly-expanding city while capturing water rights Aurora already holds, Baker said. He estimated the reservoir could be completed in 25 years if key steps were met, including a geological analysis. 

The Whitney Reservoir project drew early attention from Colorado River conservationists and a fishing association concerned for the health of local fish habitats and the river system. Prolonged drought and existing diversions have already diminished Colorado River flows in recent decades.

The project could also impact pristine wetland ecosystems and would also require cutting near 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness. 

Members of the public can find more information about the project on the U.S. Forest Service website. Comments can be made any time but will be “most helpful” if submitted before June 30, 2020, the Forest Service said in an information release. 

To comment on the project, or propose a different course of action, submit a comment online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58221. 

Correction: This story initially reported that one acre-foot of water can supply the typical household for one year. Baker said that amount of water can supply three Aurora households for a year.