Beyond Powder

Eldora Mountain Ski Resort is eyeing new water storage sites in Boulder and Gilpin counties as it plans for more ski runs and a drier future.

Eldora isn’t the only ski resort in Colorado that’s in need of more water to make snow, and to operate toilets, water fountains and restaurant kitchens. Ski resorts make up a tiny slice of Colorado’s overall water use, but they’ll likely need to boost their supply by about 41% by 2050, according to state estimates.

“We know that climate change is real, and we’ve got to anticipate having some low-weather years where we need more water storage just to stay in business,” said Brent Tregaskis, the resort’s general manager. “That’s a big part of my motivation, is to be prepared for the future.”

In December, Eldora started the vetting process in water court for its hoped-for storage expansion — a proposal to turn three natural depressions into storage ponds and expand three existing reservoirs. If water court approves, the resort could access up to 197 acre-feet of additional storage for a total of around 517 acre-feet, according to Eldora. The new water rights would be very junior, with a priority date of 2023 or 2024.

In response, some concerned citizens and nearby communities are watching Eldora’s proposal closely. The environmental group Save The World’s Rivers called for more transparency and community engagement to ensure that the area’s watershed is protected.

The Water Users Association of District No. 6 — which comprises the majority of senior water rights holders in the Boulder Creek basin, like Boulder County, Lafayette and large agricultural diverters — primarily wants to make sure no downstream diverters are adversely impacted. And residents in the nearby town of Nederland have raised questions about environmental impacts, said Miranda Fisher, town and zoning administrator for Nederland.

“We’re all sourcing from the same stream, and so it’s really important that we understand what they’re doing, and of course when the time comes, that they understand what we’re doing,” Fisher says.

Eldora Mountain Resort, located 21 miles west of Boulder, offers 680 acres of terrain. The resort wants more water primarily to make more snow. Snowmaking — which typically involves pumping water from ponds through machines that spew out snow onto the slopes — has been vital for resorts since the 1980s as a way to guarantee good runs even when snow storms are few and far between.

Throughout Colorado, resorts collectively used about 5,620 acre-feet of water per year to make snow as of 2015, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. By 2050, that use is expected to increase to 7,950 acre-feet per year.

Cities, towns and industries like the ski industry will also face water shortages by 2050. Statewide, the gap could be up to 740,000 acre-feet in dry years, according to the 2023 Colorado Water Plan.

For snowmaking, resorts need dependable water supplies in dry years — and for that water to be usable in the winter, resorts need storage.

“The name of the game was storage. That’s the bottom line,” said Glenn Porzak, a water lawyer who has worked with resorts for more than 30 years to corral water rights and develop storage.

This story originally appeared in The Colorado Sun, a partner to Water Education Colorado in publishing Fresh Water News to cover water stories of critical importance to Colorado and the West.

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