From the basin between Red Peak and Buffalo Mountain, Willow Creek cascades down the valley to the Lower Blue. Thanks to a donation by a longtime Summit County local, Silverthorne will receive a significant increase in water rights because of an old diversion in the wilderness behind Ruby Ranch.
“This much water could be a significant portion of the overall town usage,” Silverthorne public works director Bill Linfield said. “How the town might use these newly acquired rights is not yet known but will be carefully explored in the coming years.”
Local developer Gary Miller donated a total of 1.833 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) in water rights to the town, the rough equivalent of 13.71 gallons per second, or 1,185,000 gallons per day.
Sawmill Gulch is diverted from Willow Creek, within the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Linfield said. The diversion, appropriated in 1918, was originally intended for irrigation.
“I’ve owned this water for a long time,” Miller said. “I think the town of Silverthorne has done such a great job. I thought, ‘I’ve got the water; they’ve got a lot of people moving into the town.’ I thought the best thing for me to do was to give it to them.”
Miller has lived in Summit County since 1975, and helped develop part of the Keystone area. In 2013, he participated in a land-swap with the U.S. Forest Service, trading them the 40-acre “ghost town” of Chihuahua for 20 acres of developable space at the base of the gondola.
“It was just water that I’ve owned for decades,” he added. “I was maybe going to use it for building or construction, but I think this is a better use for it.”
Miller filed the quit-claim deed for the water rights on June 27, in exchange for a sum of $10 from the town. On Wednesday, exactly one month later, Silverthorne Town Council unanimously voted to accept the donation.
Though the town has not assessed the value of the water rights, the fact that they are dated before the Colorado River Compact adds inherent value. An agreement formed in 1922 among seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin, the Colorado River Compact allocates water rights between the states.
“Water with earlier dates is not subject to that compact and the rules related to water use within the Colorado River Basin, including the Blue River Basin,” Linfield said.
Since the water remains untapped, the town would put in the necessary infrastructure once an appropriate use is determined.
“The town of Silverthorne has millions of dollars invested in our water rights portfolio and we work diligently to manage and maintain those rights,” Linfield said. “While we feel our water portfolio is strong, we are always looking for ways to improve and protect this valuable resource.”