The skies were sunny and flowers blossomed at the Ranch at Emerald Valley when the Broadmoor hosted a media tour of its newest guest attraction in late August, just days after it opened. But within three weeks the property, into which $4 million had been poured for renovations, would be inundated by flood waters.
And in some ways, the situation just got muddier when they receded. Not only had two 100-year-old dams washed out during heavy rains, but the Broadmoor soon discovered that those dams weren't on record with the state, making them technically illegal.
So before it can rebuild, the Broadmoor must get state approval for the dams, and also find a way to fill the small reservoirs they make possible — which might not be easy in a watershed where all the water is spoken for.
Broadmoor President Steve Bartolin says via email he's "hopeful" the $450-a-night tourist spot will reopen May 1, but there's clearly a lot to accomplish. He adds that he can't answer all the questions surrounding the dams, but that the Broadmoor "will certainly follow all proper channels and procedures."
Taken by surprise
The ranch dates to the early 1900s when cabins were built on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. One dam was built in 1909, Broadmoor spokeswoman Allison Scott says via email, and the other in the 1920s, when Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose bought the ranch and built more cabins.
Having changed hands through the years, it was recently owned by Mike and Katie Turley, who bought the site in 1982 and ran a camp there until 2011. In September 2012, the Broadmoor bought the improvements from the Turleys and started operating the ranch under a special use permit from the Forest Service. The bill of sale conveyed ownership of buildings, fences, parking lots, septic tanks, furniture, appliances and "water reservoirs," among other items.
After more than three inches of rain lashed the region Sept. 12, state inspectors called around to find out how dams were holding up. One of those calls was made to the Broadmoor to check on Fisher Canyon dam near Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; it stores water used to irrigate the resort's golf courses and, if breached, could impact dozens of homes, says Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety in the state Division of Water Resources.
"The Broadmoor said that one looked OK but they had lost two dams in Emerald Valley," McCormick tells the Independent, "and that was news to the dam safety engineer. When he was able to get up Old Stage Road, he went up and sure enough, two small dams up there both had breached." (Those were two of nine dams that failed across the state during the September storms, he says.)
Scott says both dams had been inspected before the ranch opened to guests, but doesn't say by whom.
Both of the Emerald Valley dams, which McCormick describes as "timber crib" structures, are considered low- or no-hazard, meaning damage from a breach would be restricted to the ranch itself. But if the Broadmoor wants to rebuild the dams — one of which was nearly 12 feet tall, and the other 8 feet — it will have to inform the Division of Water Resources and go through some level of design review, depending on to what height each will be rebuilt.
"The Broadmoor knows if they want to rebuild those, they will have to be entered into our system and go through a process," McCormick says, including approval of design and construction, and inspection every six years. He estimates the cost of reconstruction at a "couple hundred thousand dollars."
The state also must verify the Broadmoor has the legal right to store water there, he adds, which might be the most costly issue of all.
Dead in the water
Division of Water Resources state engineer Dick Wolfe says storage of water at Emerald Valley, which has come from an unknown source but lies within the Little Fountain Creek watershed, technically has been illegal, according to an investigation triggered by the dams' breach.
"There was nothing in our records that indicated they had an approved structure there, both either as a structure or as a means to store water behind it," Wolfe says. "We went back, and no one's ever claimed or got approved through the water court an actual water right there or a plan for augmentation at that site." The state doesn't plan to levy any fines, however.
Whether obtaining water rights would be up to the Forest Service or the Broadmoor isn't clear. The Forest Service's rules for leasing federal property state, "Water rights will be obtained in the name of the United States, not the permittee." It also states the permittee, the Broadmoor in this case, would be responsible for any augmentation that may be required by the state.
There's no unappropriated water available in that basin, Wolfe says, so if the Broadmoor diverted water to fill the reservoirs, it would have to acquire water to augment Little Fountain Creek downstream. He estimates costs at up to $500 per acre foot to lease water, and up to $30,000 per acre foot to buy it.
There's no firm figure available regarding how much the reservoirs hold, but if the surface covers 2.71 acres, as stated in a city document, the ponds might hold up to 27 acre feet of water, meaning the Broadmoor's cost to refill the reservoirs could reach $810,000. And that doesn't even count ongoing backfill that'd be required due to evaporation.
One source of water might be Colorado Springs Utilities. While the city's reservoirs on Pikes Peak are at 72.3 percent of capacity as compared to the normal 65.4 percent, the city's system-wide storage is relatively low — 56.1 percent of capacity compared to the normal 69 percent.
But even if the city could spare the water, Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says the city has no tariff in place for filling ponds. City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board, would have to create one, and it's unclear how long that process would take. "I just don't think we have any kind of mechanism right now that would make that a doable thing, even if we wanted to," Berry says.
Although the city agreed in July to provide Emerald Valley Ranch with a domestic water supply of 15 acre feet per year at a cost of $5,880 a year, that water can't be used to fill the reservoirs, Berry says.
"Even if the agreement allowed them to do it," Berry says, "they couldn't get enough water out of the agreement to fill those ponds. We just know it's a lot more than 15 acre feet."
So as winter comes on, The Broadmoor faces not only a costly repair job — El Paso County Assessor Mark Lowderman says flooding caused "significant structural damage" to one of 10 cabins, and to water and sewer systems and roads — but also the chore of rebuilding the dams and lining up a water supply.
Despite all that, Scott is optimistic. "Our plan," she says, "is to restore them to their original condition."
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