VAIL — Snow, also known as this year’s water supply, last week kept Glenn Porzak from accepting the latest Vail Trailblazer award. Tuesday evening, he was on hand to hear kind words and take home a plaque.
The award was presented to Porzak, a Boulder-based water attorney, at Tuesday’s annual state of the town meeting at Donovan Pavilion. A handful of speakers talked about the decades Porzak has spent helping create the legal framework that has allowed the resort and the valley to flourish.
Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid told the mostly-full room she first got to know Porzak when she was on the board of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
Langmaid said the district, and the valley, are “fortunate” to have had Porzak’s legal leadership over the years. Porzak helped put together the portfolio of water rights that helped both the growing town of Vail, and allowed snowmaking on Vail Mountain.
Langmaid added that Porzak was instrumental in forging an agreement to keep water rights in the valley instead of sending the resource to the Front Range.
Consolidating and creating
Vail Mayor Dave Chapin noted that Vail in the early days had eight separate water districts ranging from East Vail to Intermountain. Porzak’s work helped consolidate those districts into one entity.
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Accepting his award, Porzak credited his clients in the area for leading the way to change the state’s water law to accommodate recreation and other uses.
For instance, in the early 1970s, Bob Parker of Vail Associates — the precursor to Vail Resorts — called Porzak, asking him to find a way to get rights to about 50 acre-feet of water for snowmaking at the bottom of Vail Mountain. There was no applicable water law for that, so Porzak created a deal for water to “irrigate the lower slopes of Vail Mountain.”
Later, the district had what Porzak called the “audacious” idea to create a recreational water right for Gore Creek. That right would help create water parks on that creek and other streams in the state.
Like virtually every water law case, it took years to settle the issue, with the Colorado Supreme Court finally ruling in favor of the request.
Porzak also credited the water district and the Upper Eagle River Water Authority — a separate, but associated entity — with having the foresight to stave off Front Range appropriation of local water rights.
“They looked over at Grand County and saw 80 percent of that water had been diverted,” Porzak said. “They looked at Summit County, and saw Denver Water had taken over 100,000 acre feet per year.”
Local water officials negotiated deals with Colorado Springs and Aurora regarding water rights associated with the Homestake Reservoir. Those officials also took on Denver Water, which had acquired senior water rights on the Eagle River. At one point, the Denver-based water authority had plans for a large reservoir just north of Wolcott, and plans to pump that water over Vail Pass into Dillon Reservoir.
Years of litigation and negotiation resulted in the unprecedented step of Denver Water actually abandoning water rights on the Eagle.
Porzak noted that in final settlement negotiations, Denver Water’s lead attorney said, “It’s not in Denver Water’s DNA to abandon water rights,” Porzak recalled. “I said, ‘Why don’t you donate them to the (Colorado River District) and they’ll abandon them?’ He said, ‘That’ll work.'”
Porzak said he’s been “honored” to have been connected with local water officials.
The result of those decades of work, he said has created, “In my mind, the greatest recreation-based community in the United States, and, maybe, the world.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at [email protected] or 970-748-2930.
- An acre-foot of water is just less than 326,000 gallons. It’s the standard unit of measure for water rights in Colorado.
- Colorado water rights operate under a seniority system. The older the right, the higher priority it has. That’s important in dry years.