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Wilderness Workshop to sue Forest Service over approval of Homestake Creek test drilling plan

July 7, 2021, 10:23 am
Homestake Creek (David O. Williams photo)

Wilderness Workshop and its partner conservation groups on Wednesday announced their intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service for its approval in March of a plan by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs for geotechnical drilling and seismic testing to assess the feasibility of possible dam sites in the Homestake Creek valley near Red Cliff.

The test drilling and seismic work by Homestake Partners (the two Front Range cities) is designed to select an appropriate dam site about five miles below their existing Homestake Reservoir in order to develop water rights they’ve owned since the 1950s and then pump that water up to Homestake Reservoir through the Continental Divide and down to the rapidly growing Front Range. The cities would have to file for seperate permits for an actual dam.

A wide range of local and statewide interests oppose both the test drilling, which has been delayed by wildfire activity in recent years, and the ultimate development of a new dam. Eagle County would have to grant it a 1041 infrastructure permit for the project — something the commissioners declined to do in the 1990s when a separate but similar project known as the proposed Homestake II Reservoir was litigated up to the Colorado Supreme Court.

A Forest Service spokesman on Wednesday told Real Vail the agency does not comment on litigation.

Greg Baker, public relations manager for the City of Aurora and Aurora Water, said, “We are unable to comment on this.”

This story will be updated with additional comments and information as it becomes available. Heres the press release from Wilderness Workshop:

CARBONDALE, CO – Citing threats to lynx and cutthroat trout, Wilderness Workshop and partner conservation groups today filed a Notice of Intent to sue the US Forest Service (USFS) over its failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act when it approved drilling test wells in the Homestake Valley earlier this year.

Today’s notice was filed by WildEarth Guardians on behalf of Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Headwaters, the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund, Save the Colorado, and the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“After reviewing the record it’s clear that the USFS and the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The real impacts to listed species, including lynx and cutthroat trout, haven’t been adequately considered or disclosed,” said Peter Hart, Staff Attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “Today’s letter puts the agencies on notice of the violations we’ve identified; they now have 60 days to respond. If the issues we’ve raised remain unresolved, we could pursue a legal challenge in federal court.”

When the White River National Forest was considering whether to approve drilling test wells in the Homestake Valley, Wilderness Workshop requested a comprehensive environmental review, noting in comments that drilling test wells is the first step in construction of a new dam and will have significant impacts on wetlands, wilderness, wildlife, and roadless forests. Unfortunately, in March 2021, the U.S. Forest Service granted the permit, violating the Endangered Species Act.

In analyzing the decision, Wilderness Workshop and its partners determined that the USFS and the USFWS failed to consider the full scope of impacts associated with the test drilling, which will lead to a full dam building project. Specifically, the agencies failed to undertake adequate analysis of potential impacts to cutthroat trout and lynx. To address these violations, the USFS must prepare a new biological assessment fully considering and disclosing whether the proposed project—including direct and indirect effects, as well as effects from interrelated actions—is likely to adversely affect cutthroat trout and lynx. Then, the USFWS must prepare a new response to that biological assessment. In the interim, both agencies must prevent any irreversible or irretrievable commitment of resources from occurring until a new analysis is completed.

Wilderness Workshop is committed to fighting new dam construction in the Homestake Valley and will continue engaging at every step along the way to stop this destructive project. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to the project and Wilderness Workshop encourages concerned community members to sign the petition opposing any new dam in the Homestake Valley. Wilderness Workshop has three upcoming events where individuals can learn more about this misguided proposal; register for all events at https://wildernessworkshop.org/savehomestakevalley/  

Homestake Valley Education Day – Thursday, July 22; 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.; Whitney Lake Trailhead, Homestake Valley

During this short hike, you’ll hear from Wilderness Workshop, the Eagle River Watershed Council, and others about this area’s unique ecology, river hydrology, water rights, the importance of wilderness, and more. Hikes will be staggered and limited to 10 people; they will depart starting at 9:15, 9:45, and 10:15 a.m.

Homestake Peak Hike – Saturday, July 24; 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; Homestake Peak, near Leadville

Spend the day learning about the area that could be inundated! This hike – best suited for adults with outdoor experience – will go above the treeline and hopefully summit the 13,000-foot Homestake Peak, all while being immersed in incredible high-country views of the Homestake Valley.

Save the Homestake Valley Rally – Saturday, August 7

Sign-Making & Info Session: 10:00 a.m.; Red Cliff Location To be Announced

Rally: 12:00 p.m. – Homestake Reservoir Road 

Come to Red Cliff prepared to learn more about the proposed dam and reservoir, make creative signs showcasing your love of the Homestake Valley and opposition to this project, and then carpool to the proposed drilling location for a rally that makes our position clear: No New Dams in the Homestake Valley!

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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