The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs on Colorado’s Front Range, working as Homestake Partners, have proposed drilling 10, 150-foot-deep bore holes at three different sites on U.S. Forest Service land about halfway up the Homestake Road (703) a few miles southwest of Red Cliff in Eagle County.
The drilling, if approved by the forest service under what’s known as a categorical exclusion (requiring a lower level of environmental scrutiny than an EA or EIS), would occur over the course of nearly two months later this summer and fall. The drilling project is designed to determine the feasibility of a possible dam that would create Whitney Reservoir.
The drilling application being weighed by the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District does not in any way consider the actual dam project, which would have to be approved in a separate land-use application if the geophysical work proves a new reservoir in the area in feasible.
The forest service is accepting comments on the drilling project online here and will continue to accept comments at any time up until a decision has been issued, but agency officials stated in a press release (below) that, “Comments will be most helpful if received by June 30, 2020.” More information on the geophysical study and drilling project is available here.
The seismic and geophysical study, to determine in three areas on forest service land whether the bedrock and soil is solid enough to support a dam and reservoir, would be relatively low-impact, with four-man crews on foot. The bore drilling, however, involves large trucks and a rubber-tracked drilling rig that could extend up to 30 feet in the air and would likely involve some tree removal that would be coordinated with forest service officials.
In addition, Homestake Creek water would be used in the drilling process and vehicles would require temporary access roads. Fifty days of drilling (five days per site) would involve sustained noise levels and potential impacts to wildlife in the area, but none of the drilling would occur on designated roadless areas or in the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area.
For more on the potential impacts, go to the project’s technical report.
The two cities own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield, and one of the proposed dam configurations would create a reservoir that large. Some versions of Whitney would also involve an adjustment of the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary, which would require congressional and presidential approval.
The cities have been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley a few miles below their existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet. Water from there is pumped up over the Continental Divide to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and then flows on downstream to the two cities on the Front Range.
Aurora owns 150 acres of land in the area, which it purchased from a private property owner for $4.1 million in 2018. That area would be inundated by a future Whitney Reservoir if approved in a separate application.
As of Tuesday morning, there are 16 comments on the drilling application – eight in opposition to both the bore-hole proposal and a future dam and eight in opposition to a future dam. Two of the letters are from the same environmental group.
Here’s the May 28 press release from the forest service:
Forest Service accepting public comments on Whitney Creek geotechnical project
MINTURN, Colo. – The White River National Forest seeks public comment on a proposal to conduct geophysical and subsurface surveys this summer and fall in the Homestake Valley about 10 miles south of Minturn, Colo.
The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are proposing to drill 10 bore samples up to 150-feet deep using a small, rubber-tracked drill rig as well as collect geophysical data using crews on foot.
The cities hold water rights in the Upper Eagle River Basin and are parties to the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding to develop a joint water use project in the basin. The Homestake Valley is one potential location for a new reservoir, and this preliminary geotechnical work will help determine whether it is a feasible location.
“We are asking the public to help us identify any issues they would like to see addressed in our evaluation of this survey proposal,” said Marcia Gilles, Acting Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger. “At this time we are focusing solely on the potential impacts from this preliminary geophysical work. Any further proposals that might be submitted after this information is collected would be evaluated separately.”
More information about the proposal and how to comment is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58221
Comments will be most helpful if received by June 30, 2020.