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Cucharas District discusses pond evaporation and possible reservoir

CUCHARA — At the meeting of the Cucharas Sanitation and Water District board on June 15, board member and treasurer Jim Berg stated that he should be more familiar with the organization’s debt, so he and administrative assistant Jennette Coe will be working on getting him up to speed. Chairman Art Pierce also suggested implementing a capital fund for expenses. In the public forum section of the meeting, Bob Beck referred back to 2011 when he was approached to donate 1.23 acres of land to CSWD for work on the Britton ponds. He said that he’d wanted to “keep the project all-natural and safe for the environment.” While a road on the 1.23 acres was completed on June 19, 2011, Beck said, “The whole thing was supposed to be finished years ago, but it’s still not.” He advised the board that there is no grass, gravel has washed away around the area, and the ponds have too much dirt in them. General manager Bob Northup said the contractor had the job finished, but “there was a lot of runoff this spring.” Although the area was seeded last fall,

Northup said maybe the ground will need mesh, and more grass will need to be planted soon. The board scheduled a meeting at the area on June 16 to discuss what can be done and whether or not the contractor has any liability concerning the damage. In the next item of business, Northup said he has repaired five pipe breaks in the Spanish Peaks subdivision since the last board meeting. Northup also reported, “There was an electrical component failure in the water treatment plant on the pass and the tank ran dry.” That problem has been fixed. There is not a SCADA system at that water treatment plant that would automatically notify management when a problem exists. Northup estimated it might cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to install one. The Cuchara treatment plant went online June 12, and there are, according to Northup, “No problems so far.” Regarding the water tank project, Northup said the tree cutters are in, and there are people working on cleanup and getting equipment ready. Northup then talked about a proposed South Baker Creek reservoir and the meeting held on May 29 with Bruce Cantrell to discuss it. Northup reported Cantrell said he would be interested in donating land on Baker Creek to CSWD if the District would obtain funding to build the reservoir. According to Northup, Cantrell owes CSWD money, and “would probably be willing to discuss this.” Apparently Cantrell does not possess the proper water rights to make the project happen. Northup said Sandy White, president of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District and a member on the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, recommended getting a group together to talk about a Baker Creek reservoir. Cuchara resident Marshall Moore said that creating a pond on Baker Creek would create numerous assets for the area, and when it comes to involving other interested organizations, “The more, the better.” The board created a Baker Creek reservoir committee to consider costs and feasibility and will report to the board monthly so there is some accountability. Pierce asked the committee to develop a proposal for funding. The board also heard from Moore about the status of the pond augmentation plan. Moore said water commissioner Doug Brgoch recommended that an evaporation study be done to determine the true evaporation rate of the ponds in the Cuchara valley. At this time, the evaporation rate being used by the state for Cuchara is the same as the rate for the Trinidad area, and it is widely believed the Cuchara rate is about 40% less. A lower evaporation rate would require less water to be augmented. There was some discussion about how much money has been spent on the temporary augmentation plan, called the Substitute Water Supply Plan, so far – in the neighborhood of $45,000. Pond owners’ representative Cal Sandbeck gave his opinion that maybe CWCD should get another water attorney that isn’t as expensive. The board made it clear that they are not interested in changing water attorneys but advised that the pond owners may want to obtain other counsel at their own expense. As part of this discussion, the board also talked about CSWD’s water rights, including portions of # 2, 5, 8, and 13. CSWD is using very little of these and needs storage rights. It also needs to add “augmentation use” to an existing decree, perhaps on the Britton ponds. Pierce said it would be a good idea for the board to do asset planning to ensure that everything involving the water and storage rights ties together. He suggested setting a meeting with the pond owners and also recommended that a water engineer determine the actual pond evaporation rate. He said, “We want to help the pond owners, but we need to protect our assets.” He asked the newly formed committee to talk with Danielson & Associates, a water resource consulting firm specializing in water rights evaluations, to find out how much that study might cost. Danielson & Associates, which comes highly recommended, might also be involved in determining the feasibility of building the reservoir on South Baker Creek.