BUENA VISTA - A Colorado Springs plan to dam the Arkansas River near Buena Vista drew a cool reception from people who live in the area and others who depend on the river for recreation.
More than 200 people turned out Thursday night to learn about the city's tentative plan to build a large reservoir two miles north of Buena Vista. The town is about 100 miles west of Colorado Springs.
The proposed Elephant Rock dam is one of four major alternatives that could deliver future water supplies to the city, said Colorado Springs Water Division officials. Water planner Harold Miskel called the dam "a delivery system that won't be needed for another 20 years."
But local residents were concerned by the proposal that could flood a dozen homes near Buena Vista and force 100 property owners to move. Relocating railroad tracks and highways would force those moves.
Retiree Peter Neidecker called the plan "environmental pornography." Neidecker owns a home and property along the river north of the town. He said that "environmental concerns are low on the priority list of certain people in the Colorado Springs utilities section."
One property owner who would be displaced is Vickie Roe, who videotaped the meeting. "We've got 37 acres near the highway. We've got the septic and the electric in. We're going to build this summer."
The Arkansas Valley's burgeoning river-rafting industry is concerned that a dam upstream of Buena Vista would hurt the spring rafting season. Colorado Springs officials say the dam would siphon West Slope water that is being channeled into the Arkansas by other water projects.
The source of the water, however, isn't important to many in the valley, especially the river rafters. "When is Colorado Springs going to start living within its means, so it can stop exploiting small, economically disadvantaged communities like us?" asked river rafter Ray Kitson.
Fearing that a stretch of the river might receive special federal protection prohibiting dam construction, the city filed for water storage rights in water court on Dec. 31. Federal law recognizes pre-existing water rights.
When anyone applies to water court for the right to build a dam, state law mandates that all affected property owners be notified. The city complied, and as a result, Thursday night's meeting of the Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District Board was well attended.
About 65,000 acre-feet of water would be pumped out of the reservoir and sent east to Colorado Springs each year. That much water would allow the city to add another 290,000 residents, said Phil Tollefson, a Water Division spokesman.
The crowd burst into applause when Tollefson noted that as an alternative, "it may be feasible to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir." Because Pueblo Reservoir is far downstream of Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City, expanding it couldn't affect the rafting season or property in the Upper Arkansas Valley.
"It's a real attractive option, and we want to look at it," Tollefson assured the crowd.
Roe summed it up as she packed up her video camera: "I just find it irritating that they think they can come in and do this. They think we're a bunch of hicks."
ALTERNATIVES TO ELEPHANT DAM
Expanding Pueblo Reservoir.
Building a system that runs north from Lake Henry and Lake Meredith, southeast of Colorado Springs.