Ruedi water secured and a debt repaid

More than 40 years after Ruedi Reservoir was completed on the Frying Pan River in Eagle and Pitkin counties, Western Slope water users have completed transactions to pay off this region’s debt on the water and secured water in the reservoir for future use in western Colorado.

For most folks living in this part of Colorado, the Ruedi news likely falls far below the government shutdown, Denver Broncos’ fortunes or the latest in the Michael Jackson saga in order of importance, but it is significant for this region, nonetheless.

Ruedi Reservoir was built, beginning in the 1960s, to provide mitigation to the Western Slope for water taken to the Front Range by the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project. Its waters have rarely been used for anything but recreation, but water from the reservoir has come into play in recent drought years. That suggests how important it could be to this region in future dry years.

The reservoir was built, and is owned, by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the Western Slope, with water users in this region required to pay the federal government back. The debt on the project was originally $9.3 million, according to the Colorado River District, but it has grown to $34 million over more than four decades as the government added the cost of unpaid interest and operating expenses to the debt. Because most of the water in the reservoir has gone unsold, the debt has continued to escalate.

When originally approved, it was anticipated that much of the water from Ruedi would be sold to energy companies in what was expected to be — even in the 1960s and early 1970s — a coming oil shale boom. When that didn’t materialize, most of the water remained unsold and the debt continued to accumulate.

Under the agreement announced this week by the river district, 17 Western Slope water entities have committed to purchase the unsold water in Ruedi, thereby paying off the debt and securing the water for their use when conditions demand it.

By far the largest commitment is from the Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest domestic water supplier in the Grand Valley. It has secured 12,000 acre feet of water at a cost of $15.5 million, according to a news release from the river district. No other entity acquired more than 500 acre feet from Ruedi.

Other entities committing to purchase Ruedi water range from Summit County to the city of Aspen, to Garfield County, as well as the towns of De Beque and Palisade.

Congratulations are due to the Colorado River District, which worked two years to put the commitments together, and to the 17 entities that agreed to commit to purchase water from the reservoir in order to pay off this region’s debt and to secure water for the needs of their customers.


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