Winter Park: Is there enough water to keep growing?
As real estate booms in downtown Winter Park and near the ski area, town officials find themselves balancing development and available water.
Knowing that the Fraser Valley will eventually run into water shortages (it already has during drought conditions), some important questions hang in the air: What developments should the town approve now, and at what point does an alternative water supply ” such as a pumpback system ” need to be in place?
Those questions were revisited Tuesday when Lakota, the growing residential development located across from the ski area, requested that Winter Park town council members reconsider the decision it made two years ago concerning density. Back then, Lakota requested roughly doubling the number of units it wanted to build ” from 259 units to 495 units.
At that time, Mike Wageck, of the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District (which serves Old Town, Lakota and Winter Park Resort) believed the district could serve 200 more taps before endangering its physical supply of water. The town council, afraid the district wouldn’t have enough water available, approved Lakota’s request on the condition that an alternative water supply be made available before the developer builds its units.
The town council wanted to ensure that other developers “mainly Intrawest ” had enough water to build its proposed units, which included Fraser’s Crossing and Founders Pointe, and the new base village.
But Lakota and Intrawest decided to fund a study of the area’s water supply ” conducted by Leonard Rice Engineers. That study showed there was enough water to serve 1,600 additional units.
The results were released in 2005, after the town council had already made its decision about Lakota.
“Both major developers were concerned about their water supply and their growth, so they funded the study,” said Wageck during a phone interview. “The district contracted the study and they reimbursed us.”
Wageck admitted he was unaware of other agreements the district had with Denver Water at the time he came up with the “200” number. Although there is a significant discrepancy between the district’s original analysis and the new study, Wageck said he feels confident that the new study is accurate, and the district can service 1,600 additional taps.
Since the 2005 study was completed, the town approved Intrawest’s two condo buildings ” 200 units ” Fraser’s Crossing and Founders Pointe. Based on the study, the district now has 1,400 additional taps available before running into issues with river flow.
Mike Repucci, who represents Lakota Land Group, was present at Tuesday’s meeting to request that town council reconsider the “special rule” it applied to Lakota’s additional units.
“Because of the changed circumstances, we said to the town . . . that there’s been operational changes in the district’s system,” Repucci explained. “And so rather than stop development pending construction on a pumpback system, they consider the district has enough taps today to serve our incremental units and base area.”
The district does have enough funds to build a pumpback system, but, Wageck asked, when will it be necessary to build the system?
Building the system too soon would be a waste of governmental resources, Repucci pointed out. The system is also pending on a water right application, which is currently being reviewed in water court.
So, Lakota is playing the waiting game.
Repucci asked the town to consider a partial release of its additional units ” 109 units out of the 230 additional units requested ” for the time being, so that Lakota can get on its way and start developing. The town council decided it would hold off until Nov. 6 to make that decision.
Until then, Winter Park Town Planner Drew Nelson will have a more in-depth analysis on how many water taps have been approved by the Town of Winter Park ” including for the resort, Arrowhead Property and Lakota ” and how many more the town can approve before the district falls short of its water supply.
The district will then also have a better idea of when a pumpback system should be built.
“My big fear is we cut too close, we have a year like 2002, and we can’t get water out of the faucet,” said Town Council Member Vince Turner. “And the real estate market is gone forever.” Turner referred to 2002, which was a drought year in Grand County.
“As a town we have to be cognitive of approving new developments and assuring that the water is available,” said Town Council Member Rusty Thompson during a phone interview. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. If there’s serious concerns that water isn’t going to be there, it’s not the best interest of the town.”
Winter Park mayor, Nick Teverbaugh, agreed that the water situation in Grand County is an ongoing problem in the community.
“It’s always an assumption you make and what the year’s look like, and what happens with Denver Water’s firming project and Northern’s firming project. The water world is complex and it keeps changing,” Teverbaugh said.
Teverbaugh said the Nov. 6 meeting will have a more firm analysis on the number of units the town can approve without risking the water supply.
“I think the new information that the water and sanitation districts has would indicate they can do a fair amount of development before they think they have problems. As long as water rights for the pumpback goes through water court as it’s anticipated to . . . then everybody’s happy,” Teverbaugh said.
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