Reservoir ownership still up in air

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The ownership of Elkhead Reservoir is still not clear even though its been ten years since the city entered an agreement with the Division of Wildlife to purchase the property.

And it will be another three years before the city can call the site its own.

The original exchange agreement was for a term of five years and was extended by five years in 1995 to expire Aug. 17, 2000.

According to City Attorney Sherman Romney, the Division of Wildlife (DOW) was to complete a measurement of the area to determine the amount of water storage the city would receive. The actual storage figure was to be used to determine the exchange value of the agreement and the city would acquire property of the same value to give to the DOW. At the time of the original agreement, the city was willing to purchase the water rights outright, but DOW officials were more interested in a land exchange.

"The process took a number of years and was eventually completed by the city engineer instead of the DOW," Romney said.

In the meantime, the city acquired an easement known as the Grieves Property for $350,000, which made up nearly half of what the city would exchange for water rights. The price of the reservoir is an estimated $750,000.

Now, it looks like it will be another three years before the property the city sought in 1990 becomes its own.

The city and DOW have again agreed to extend the contract for several reasons.

There have been several delays in the process. Under the original agreement, the city was required to repair the spillway and bring it up to standard. The cost of that work will count toward the city's portion of the purchase price. The city waited for several years for a determination from the state engineer on the condition of the spillway. It was determined the city would not have to replace the spillway, but would have to make several minor repairs. Plans for those repairs are underway.

City officials also fear they may be required to put up a fish-screen a mesh net used to keep non-native fish within the boundaries of the reservoir to prevent them from mingling with endangered fish living in the Yampa River.

"We were cautious to proceed with the project until we knew whether the reservoir would create unforeseen liability to the city," Romney said.

City officials feared the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would require the city to purchase and maintain a fish screen across the spillway at Elkhead. Preliminary estimates put the cost of the screen at about $1 million with an additional $60,000 a year to maintain it. Since then, cost estimates have gone down, but it still represented a financial burden to the city and could have impacted the work on the spillway.

It is still unknown whether the U.S.F.W.S. will place a screen at Elkhead, but officials have been assured they would not have to pick up the cost.

City officials are still unsure whether an endangered fish recovery program will attempt to enlarge Elkhead for the placement of non-native fish. If the reservoir is enlarged, the city might not need to repair the spillway.

"Because of these delays, It was necessary to approach the DOW about an extension of the agreement," Romney said. "The three-year period should allow us to complete the engineering and hopefully the construction and repairs and fish screens."

In addition to the Grieves Property, the city put two additional properties in escrow, warehouse property at 1700 N. Yampa Ave., the DOW has leased for several years and a 320 acre parcel near Maybell. Romney is still negotiating the purchase of the second property, valued at approximately $64,000.

The city isn't alone in waiting for water rights in Elkhead Reservoir. A group called the Yampa Valley Participants which includes Tri-State Generation and Transmission, PacifiCorp, the Oregon Corporation, the Platte River Power Authority, the Salt River Project Agricultural Impairment and Power district and a group from Arizona will own 61.28 percent of the water rights. The city will own 38.72 percent.

According to City Manager Jim Ferree, Tri-State owns the largest share of the Yampa Valley Participants portion and acts as the group's spokesmen.

The Yampa Valley Participants will share the costs of the spillway improvements.

The city has more than $600,000 set aside to be spent solely on Elkhead Reservoir. From 1988 to 1994, the city charged a fee on its utility bills to collect funds for work needed at Elkhead. According to Ferree, the funds set aside will be sufficient to complete the work now that the state has approved a report saying the Elkhead spillway did not have to be raised to meet maximum flood conditions.

Elkhead Reservoir was constructed in 1974 as a joint project between the DOW and the Yampa Participants.

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