“It’s kind of an insurance policy”
The Crested Butte area is already well known for great skiing and mountain biking, but in a few years paddle boating may also be a recreational staple of the area. Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) has recently applied to the Gunnison District water court for rights to fill a reservoir in the proposed North Village development for snowmaking, fire suppression, and of course–recreational boating.
CBMR director of planning and permitting John Sale says the latest plans for the proposed North Village development have not been officially submitted to the town, and may not be until sometime this fall. However, the resort is currently in the process of securing the rights and appropriate permits to construct a reservoir at the North Village site. The North Village site is located just past the Mt. Crested Butte town hall, between Gothic Road and the base of Snodgrass Mountain.
In January, CBMR applied to Gunnison Water District No. 4 for a 160 acre foot reservoir, to be called Crescent Lake, at the proposed North Village site. One hundred and sixty acre-feet is approximately 52 million U.S. gallons.
CBMR director of real estate and sales Michael Kraatz says in addition to securing the water right to fill and store water in the reservoir, the resort will apply for a permit from the state to construct a dam, as well as an excavation permit from the town of Mt. Crested Butte. Kraatz says the dam would have a maximum height of 72 feet, and the surface area of the reservoir at high water would be 8.7 acres – slightly larger than the resort’s main parking lot.
Kraatz says the water right application isn’t asking to withdraw water in excess of that which is currently used for snowmaking. “We’re looking to be able to withdraw the same amount (of water), but to be able to store it. So in low flow years we can make snow without worrying about drying up the (East) River,” Kraatz says.
Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District manager Frank Kugel says the resort’s conditional use permit with the U.S. Forest Service limits the amount of water they can draw for snowmaking in the fall and winter. “The Forest Service feels there is an unnecessary risk to the environmental quality of the East River if the flows drop below a certain point,” Kugel says.
CBMR general manager Randy Barrett says, “A reservoir allows us to take water out of the river earlier in the year during spring runoff.” He says the reservoir won’t meet the total needs for snowmaking, but it will certainly help prevent issues associated with low flows. “It’s kind of an insurance policy,” Barrett says.
Barrett says the reservoir is also needed should the resort want to increase the total area of snowmaking, whether for the existing ski area or the potential development of lift accessed skiing on Snodgrass Mountain. The resort’s Main Mountain Improvements Plan, which has been approved by the Forest Service, also identifies the need for a snowmaking reservoir, Barrett says.
Sale says there has been some confusion between the purpose of CBMR’s proposed reservoir, and another reservoir proposed by the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District that is called the North Village Reservoir. Sale says the District already has water rights to fill their reservoir, but now must decide on a suitable location. The District’s water right allows a 700 acre foot reservoir for municipal water use and snowmaking.
Sale says a separate snowmaking reservoir fully owned and operated by the resort has been in the plans for some time. “Starting two or three years ago it has always been our intent to move forward and create a reservoir for snowmaking, for the main mountain and potentially for Snodgrass,” Sale says.
Kraatz says, “We’ve made the District aware that we’re moving forward with permitting and construction of our own dam fully contained on our own land. Their dam would not have to accommodate the snowmaking water need.”
In addition to snowmaking, the reservoir could also be used for recreational purposes Kraatz says. “That’s absolutely one of the other reasons for this… whether it’s learning to kayak or just paddling around in a canoe,” Kraatz says.
Sale says another use for the reservoir would be for fire suppression purposes in the North Village. It could also be used for augmentation purposes in the event a water rights call is made and water users would need to purchase additional water (for example, the UGRWCD owns and operates Meridian Lake Reservoir for augmentation purposes). “In any matter it’s still important to have stored water upstream for everybody,” Sale says.
Sale says there have been concerns that the resort’s actions will take water away from others in the valley. But, he says the rights for the reservoir would be the most junior water rights in the valley and all other water rights holders would technically have priority for the water first. Under the state’s water law system of prior appropriation, older, ‘senior’ water rights holders have priority over ‘junior’ water rights holders.
Sale says CBMR’s current water rights for snowmaking would also be considered junior, but could allow the resort to use approximately 80 million gallons of water for snowmaking purposes. “When people think of 80 million gallons of water, it is difficult to think of how much water that is,” Sale says.
Sale says during the spring runoff the East River peaks at 2,500 cubic feet per second at the junction with Cement Creek. Sale says during the spring runoff, 80 million gallons of water flow through the East River in 71 minutes. “Our water usage equals just over an hour of flow during spring runoff,” he says.