Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District has filed for water rights that would allow it to create a new infiltration gallery and draw millions of gallons per day from the Yampa River.
Mount Werner Water District attorney Tom Sharp said the district wants to build the new gallery as an alternative to a gallery that could be threatened by a leak at a gas station east of town.
The city of Steamboat Springs opposes the filing, and district critics said the filing is an attempt to control development.
A gas leak at the Shop 'N Hop convenience store and gas station was detected in 1995, and cleanup has been ongoing since 2000 under the supervision of the state's Division of Oil and Public Safety, said Winifred Bromley, a representative from the state's office. The cleanup has cost $56,000, and Bromley anticipates it won't be finished for about three years.
In November, the district filed for the right to draw 5 cubic feet per second -- about 3.2 million gallons per day -- from the Yampa River and Walton Creek. In December, the district closed on a 37-acre parcel of land just south of the Fairfield Inn.
"This is an opportune site for replacement or, for that matter, an additional infiltration gallery," Sharp said.
The city filed a statement of opposition to the water right application last week. The filing of opposition is a standard procedure, city attorney Tony Lettunich said.
Bill Martin, a former City Council president and longtime critic of the Mount Werner district, said he is wary of the district's move. He sees it as a pre-emptive strike on the recreational water rights the city filed at the end of December and a means for the district to control growth.
The district filed a month before the city filed for its recreational water rights, which would ensure a minimum flow on the Yampa River for recreational purposes such as kayaking, fishing and tubing.
Martin noted that while Sharp was filing for water rights on behalf of Mount Werner he also was urging the city not to go forward with its application.
In his opposition to the city's filing, Sharp was representing the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, not the Mount Werner Water District. Sharp is president of the conservancy district.
But Sharp said Mount Werner Water District's decision to file for rights to supply its proposed infiltration gallery had nothing to do with the city's decision to file for recreational water rights. The Mount Werner Water District Board has not opposed the city's filing, Sharp said.
The Mount Werner Water District and city have two main sources of water: water flowing from Fish Creek and stored in the Fish Creek Reservoir and water in three infiltration galleries near the city's eastern limits.
The water coming from Fish Creek generates the city and district's main water supply. But in the summer when demand peaks, about 20 percent of the water used comes from the infiltration galleries.
The Mount Werner Water District has two infiltration galleries near the Super 8. Both are downstream from the Shop 'N Hop gas tanks.
The city has a nearby infiltration gallery with a water right for 6.67 cfs. The district's water right for its infiltration galleries is 4.8 cfs.
Mount Werner Water and the city conducted an "influence zone" study to determine where pollutants could seep into the ground and work their way to the infiltration galleries in two, five and 10 years' time.
That study, which McLaughlin Water Engineers Ltd. completed in December 2002, showed the gas leak was in the two-year influence zone for one of the Mount Werner galleries, Sharp said.
The water in the infiltration gallery is tested regularly and is not contaminated, Sharp said, but the district is concerned about future contamination.
Mount Werner Manager Bob Stoddard said the area of the contamination is roughly 370 feet by 170 feet. The contaminants include benzene, ethyl benzene, xylene and TVH.
An interception trench was put in the sites in hopes of stopping the contamination from spreading. Quarterly tests from monitoring wells show that the polluting chemicals have yet to go past the trench, Stoddard.
The proposed infiltration gallery could be useful for the future water supply, Sharp said, but he noted the district cannot serve development outside its boundaries without the consent of the City Council.
Martin said he fears the filing is more than supplemental. "It is developers looking at reserving as much water as possible for development," he said.
City water attorney Glenn Porzak said the district's water filing has the potential to affect the city's recreational water rights request and any other city water right.
The Mount Werner Water District filing was made Nov. 26, 2003. The date gives the district a higher priority than the city's recreational water right filed a month later.
The city's application requested a recreational in-channel diversion from April 15 to Oct. 31. The maximum flow requested was 1,700 cubic feet per second in the first half of June and the minimum requested was 120 cfs from July 15 to Oct. 31. The application also stipulated the claim would be limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District and upstream municipalities urged the council to wait to file and said it would oppose such a large water right on the Yampa River.