New water contract has resort in powder

Employees at Powderhorn Mountain Resort make snow at the base of the mountain in December. Although the snowpack has been good this winter, a water lease agreement with the city of Grand Junction will make sure the resort has enough snow-making material in the very dry years.

A little before this time last year, skiers and riders at Powderhorn Mountain Resort were treated to their first top-to-bottom runs of the season, as the resort's modest snowmaking failed to make a dent in one of the driest years on record.

Now, with a push to improve snowmaking that includes a new water lease agreement with the city of Grand Junction, the resort thinks next season and beyond could be quite different.

"I actually believe that we will be able to open the first of December, and then full time about the 15th," Andy Daly, managing partner for Powderhorn, told city councilors before they signed off on the new deal.

The 40-year lease agreement calls for the city to provide 140 acre-feet of water — an acre-foot equates to almost 326,000 gallons — to the resort from the city's Anderson Reservoir No. 2, bringing an estimated $23,500 per year to the city's Water Enterprise Fund.

The water will be piped directly from the reservoir to the resort via an 11,500-foot pipeline, where it will meet up with Powderhorn's distribution system for snowmaking.

The resort is footing the bill for the design, construction, installation, operation and maintenance of that system, which includes the pipeline, pump station and electrical service.

Before agreeing to the deal, city staff did extensive research to determine if the city's water supply, even in record dry years like 2018, could sustain the sale of the water.

Staff pursued a modeling project to determine the city's "firm yield" — or the amount that the city can reliably produce from its water rights and reservoirs while still maintaining a certain level of water in the reservoirs year over year.

"The 140 acre-feet that we are proposing to lease to Powderhorn represents a very minor percent, only 2 percent, of the city's firm yield," Utilities Director Randi Kim told councilors. "We determined that water is available for the lease, without causing a detrimental impact to the city's water reliability."

Both sides of the deal touted the energy efficiency and minimal impact of the project. Because the water would come off the top of Grand Mesa and be piped almost entirely downhill, the resort contends "it would be the most energy-efficient snowmaking system in Colorado," according to a press release.

Kim noted that alignment of the pipeline coincides with a proposed trail that will connect Powderhorn to the new Palisade Plunge, a trail project that, when finished, will deliver mountain bikers from the mountain top to the valley floor. The cooperative nature of the two projects should minimize construction costs as well as environmental impact.

This is the city's second go-round with Powderhorn over water for snowmaking. The city and the resort entered into a lease agreement in 2012 for water from the city's Somerville Reservoir, but the agreement was contingent on Powderhorn building system components within 72 months. That never happened, and the lease expired last September.

The Somerville plan included moving water from Anderson to Somerville by ditch, which would have caused an estimated 50 percent water loss to evaporation. The new alignment eliminates that water loss, and ultimately means the city will end up delivering less water under the current deal.

Powderhorn says it is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies in order to begin work on the project. They're hopeful to get those approvals this spring and begin construction in the summer.

"Right now, we've got incredible snow, but this time last year skiers and riders were singing a different tune," Powderhorn General Manager Ryan Schramm is quoted as saying in a statement announcing the deal.

"If we can get the top-to-bottom snowmaking installed this summer, that sort of issue would be less of a concern next year and beyond."

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