State Removes Bartlett Gulch Diversion | Free content
About half a mile above the historic village of Twin Lakes, there is a pile of rocks in a shallow ditch.
Colorado Division of Water workers who carefully stacked these stones changed the way water flows through Bartlett Gulch, saying they were returning the ravine to its natural state. But in the spring, when the snowmelt flows down the fluted walls of Mount Elbert and into Bartlett Gulch, the owners of Twin Lakes worry that their village will be flooded.
“We could lose our cabin,” said Jo Pustizzi, a retired teacher who, with her husband Jim, has owned a cabin next to a dry creek bed in Twin Lakes for 14 years. “Why didn’t the state tell us that our homes might disappear with this change?”
In Colorado, not a drop of water is forgotten. As the snow melts and streams turn into rivers each spring, an extensive network of ditches and diversions directs water here and there. The smallest of adjustments in the runoff system – like rearranged stones in a ditch deep in the woods – can have ripple effects, both in Byzantine legal proceedings and downstream communities.
That’s what happens in Twin Lakes, an unincorporated village on the slopes of Mount Elbert. It’s a troubled story, with a developer keen to build a scattering of luxury residential sites, beavers building their own network of reservoirs, water engineers adjusting historic flows, and a small community with homes built in places which are, thanks to rearranged rocks, suddenly in a flood zone.
“How could we have known?” asked Jim Pustizzi, whose cabin is nestled between two stream beds that feed a small culvert he says will flood thanks to new flows directed to the village of Twin Lakes. “Who benefits from directing all this water towards the village instead of spreading it on the mountain as it has been done for decades? »
Water Resources Division engineers said they noticed a man-made structure diverting water from Bartlett Gulch above Twin Lakes in the fall. It had been there for years, even decades, but was recently rebuilt, Kevin Rein, director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said in an emailed statement.
This structure, despite its age, was not legal. The division determined it “infringed on water rights,” Rein said, and spoiled a Lake County plan that needed water at Bartlett Gulch to flow into Twin Lakes Reservoir in order to to increase the water the county was diverting higher up the mountain.
So last fall, hydraulic engineers removed the old diversion, which increased flows from Bartlett Gulch into the Village of Twin Lakes. They also “placed more materials intended to keep more water in the natural stream” of Bartlett Gulch, Rein said. (These are the neatly stacked rocks mentioned above, plus some downed trees.)
Rein said his engineers have reviewed the new materials they placed in the creek and now plan to remove them, “which may allow some water to flow out of the ravine and reduce the amount of increase of natural creek flow near the Village of Twin Lakes is moving forward.
“However, due to the removal of the man-made diversion structure in the natural watercourse, it is expected that flows in the natural watercourse near the Village of Twin Lakes will continue to increase from what has been known in the past,” Rein said. .
The Water Resources Division will work with Lake County and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to ensure the village’s 30-inch culvert is not submerged by spring runoff, and will also work with residents from the village, Rein said.
Developer Alan Elias acquired land in Twin Lakes in August 2017. He originally proposed more than 70 luxury homes on the hills above the reservoir, just east of the village of Twin Lakes. He’s narrowed that down to about 17 now. He applied for water rights for his AngelView project – both underground and some streams in Bartlett Gulch. The state water court is still reviewing these claims.
Elias wishes state water engineers had waited for his claims in the Colorado Water Court to be resolved before adjusting the diversions and water flow at Bartlett Gulch.
Elias directed a reporter to US Geological Survey maps from the 1930s showing Bartlett Gulch branching off into two drainage basins above the village of Twin Lakes. More than 80 years of maps show Bartlett Gulch water flowing through his AngelView property, Elias said. But more recent maps have removed that eastern drainage through his property, he said.
When the CDOT realigned the highway. 82 in Twin Lakes in 1978, they built seven culverts under the highway under the AngelView property, compared to one in the village.
“Water has flowed through these beaver ponds and marshes on the AngelView property for hundreds of years,” said Elias, who hired four water attorneys and two water engineers to study the flows in Bartlett Gulch and its property. “There is no way the Twin Lakes culvert can handle this new flow. No question at all.
Elias said his development plan permanently protects 56 acres of beaver ponds, wetlands and fens. But if the full flow of spring runoff in Bartlett Gulch remains diverted to the Village of Twin Lakes and does not spread onto its property, “it could impact the wildlife and ecology of the entire region,” Elias said. .
“It’s not just important for my development, but for all of Twin Lakes,” Elias said, noting decades of septic issues in the unincorporated village of about 50 homes.
Elias said the property above the puffy beaver ponds below the diversion is now flooded due to the change in condition. These beaver dams could burst and flood the community and the 30 inch culvert under the highway. 82, he said.
“It’s like someone hasn’t really thought about it. There is enough water to meet all obligations and send it both ways. So why change the water flow and run it through an area with no infrastructure from a water flow management perspective and an area with known septic problems? It just seems ridiculous,” Elias said. “It is irresponsible to make this change without any sort of risk assessment. It’s just asking for disaster to happen.
Willem Scott, assistant water commissioner for the Water Resources Division, said altering the old diversion structure was “essentially an enforcement matter”.
“It’s our obligation to shut down this stuff,” he said. Scott said some homes in Twin Lakes are built not just in a floodplain, “but in the actual channel” of a creek.
Water Resources Division engineers have surveyed the area and determined the path of the water and the division will work with property owners whose properties may be affected by spring runoff “to ensure they are educated and at the running,” Scott said.
“We are not responsible for making everyone’s home bulletproof against all kinds of weather events,” he said. “We are in the business of water administration.”
The Water Division is working with Lake County and landowners and hopes the problem will be solved by spring runoff.
“We have work to do. What we were doing was basically preventing unauthorized diversion and in doing so we were putting the water back where we think it should be,” Scott said. “When you build next to a stream system, you can expect to receive a fair amount of water at certain times of the year.”
Robert Krehbiel is a water engineer with homes in Twin Lakes. He saw the old diversion, which was sending about 2.5 cubic feet per second, or cfs, east to the new AngelView project. A 100-year flood would send about 100 cfs down Bartlett Gulch in the village, he said.
“So this old diversion will only help about 2% in a 100-year flood. It’s insignificant,” Krehbiel said. “The developer has a financial interest in bringing more water to his property. He sells 17 lots for something like a million dollars each. The value of these prizes depends on the water. Now he says if the water isn’t diverted onto his property, it will flood everyone in town. This is a leaps and bounds conclusion.
Bartlett Gulch passes by the Twin Lakes Lodge. Steve Erickson has owned the lodge for 26 years. If anyone should be worried about rising water at Bartlett Gulch, “it should be me,” he said. He sees an increase in water in the ravine that may cause problems for the State Department of Transportation and its culvert under the freeway. 82, “but that won’t be a problem for owners,” he said.
“I think this is all a ploy by the developer,” Erickson said. “It’s the first time a developer of this size has come to Twin Lakes and people aren’t sure how to go about it. We’re kind of a sleepy village and we’re not used to seeing the scale of this type of development. It can work and I wish him good luck. But he should know that it takes a long time for a newcomer to Twin Lakes to gain the respect and trust of the people who have lived here for many years .
The Colorado Sun is a reader-backed news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Learn more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.