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Despite local opposition, the threat of legal action and a recent rally in Red Cliff, work has already started on a geotechnical study and fatal flaw test drilling project to determine the feasibility of four potential dam sites for the proposed Whitney Reservoir in the Homestake Creek Valley in southeastern Eagle County.
“They have started the geotechnical work in Homestake Valley,” said David Boyd, spokesman for the White River National Forest supervisor’s office in Glenwood Springs. “Colorado Springs Utilities would have the specifics on timing and schedule.”
In fact, Aurora Water, which has teamed up with Colorado Springs Utilities in an entity know as Homestake Partners, filled in the gaps on the geotechnical study, which is only designed to select a potential site for a dam. Any formal dam proposal would have to go through an extensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process with the Forest Service.
“After some logistics management, we’ve been doing some low-impact survey work, including site photography, geologic field mapping and high-res drone imagery,” Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker said in an email.
“We are starting some boring work, mostly on private land as we plot out the boring needs to be performed on USFS land,” Baker added. “The geotech work will continue through the fall, but is highly dependent on weather.”
The Forest Service in March approved a permit for the study portion of the project, using a streamlined review process called a categorical exclusion. Opponents of the project, including a coalition of environmental groups, wanted a full EIS just for the geotechnical study and drilling of up to 10 bore holes.
Wilderness Workshop in July filed a notice of intent to sue to stop the study, which triggered a 60-day timeframe for a Forest Service response. Forest Service officials will not comment on the pending legal action. Wilderness Workshop had no additional comment on the current work that’s underway.
Homestake Partners is seeking to develop a reservoir that can hold up to 20,000-acre-feet annually, half of which the two cities own in water rights dating back to the 1950s. The proposed new Whitney Reservoir would be about five miles downstream from the existing 40,000-acre-foot Homestake Reservoir and could possibly encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness Area if Congress and the White House approve. The current project is just to assess possible dam sites.
“It will take some time for us to analyze the geotech data,” Baker said. “Mountain geology is challenging at best, so review and interpretation takes a lot of time. We have no timeline for the next steps. This work will help guide us in our discussions on those next steps, and it would be speculative for us to even [say] what they may look like.”
Baker added the hope is to get all of the geotechnical survey work and test drilling done by the time the Forest Service permit expires on Nov. 22.