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Cool Water: HCWCD to protest Petroglyph water right purchase application

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- ”This all looks like a grab for Huerfano County’s water,”  Huerfano County Water Conservancy District board member Kent Mace said during the regular monthly meeting of the county’s water conservancy board on Monday, Oct 25.  And with that the board voted 4-0 to lodge a protest of the Petroglyph application which was filed with the District Court, Water Division Two.  Petroglyph is seeking to purchase 1/60th of the Coler Ditch water rights.

    The application calls for an augmentation plan to replace any depletions which might result from the operation of the coal bed methane remediation plan currently in effect for the Poison Canyon Formation in the River Ridge Ranch subdivision.  It also calls for a change of water rights associated with the augmentation supply.

    However the application goes on to state that “for the purposes of the application only, the applicant (Petroglyph), assumes the Vermejo Formation is tributary.”  It also states that the applicant preserves all rights to claim that some or all of the Vermejo Formation is non-tributary at a later time.  If the Vermejo Formation is judged non-tributary, that would potentially eliminate any need for the current augmentation plan or for providing an alternative augmentation supply thus saving investment capital.

    The water rights Petroglyph is claiming for augmentation use are Coler Ditch and Reservoir System water rights.  Petroglyph is also seeking a decree that allows for the addition of other sources of augmentation water to be included so long as those sources are permitted or decreed to allow for the augmentation Petroglyph needs falling under the Ackerman Decree.

    The Ackerman Decree, in part, changed the use of the Coler System water rights to allow for use of the water in a more urban setting.  According to the Ackerman Decree, after Dec. 30, 1966 water from the Coler System could be used for such things as fire protection, sewer, generation of steam and electricity and manufacturing, anything that is required for municipal purposes.  This was an expansion of the beneficial use of Coler System water.  In 2003, David Wallerstein received 4/30th interest in the Coler and it is from that interest that Petroglyph has an option contract to purchase a 1/60th water right in the system.  And on March 18, 2005 a portion of the Coler System water rights was changed to allow augmentation by decree. 

    In the application, Petroglyph is seeking to include augmentation, including augmentation by exchange, as an additional permissible use of the 1/60th interest in the Coler System water rights.  The application also notes that Petroglyph will “…quantify the transferable consumptive use associated with the 1/60th interest in order to ensure that no unlawful expansion of use results from the change of water rights…” that are being sought. 

    Still the HCWCD board felt uncomfortable with the application, seeing it as the start of a “water grab,” and voted to protest the application.  

    “We’ve got to start protecting the water in Huerfano County,”  Mr. Mace said after the vote.  He also noted that the Huerfano Planning and Zoning Commission was working on new regulations that would protect the county’s water.  When completed and approved by the Board of County Commissioners, the new regulations will be reflected in any HB 1041 application dealing with water issues.  The P and Z Commission has just started work on the new zoning regulations and no timeline for when the regulations will be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners has been set.

    The HCWCD will also schedule a meeting with Jim Felt, retired water attorney, so that strategies for protecting the county’s water can be discussed.  The date and time for that meeting have not been set.  Mace commented to the HCWCD board that, “This meeting will be Water Law Two,” referring to a water law seminar hosted by the conservancy district earlier this month.