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Cucharas District nails down details for augmentation plan

by Carol Dunn
CUCHARA- At its June 10 meeting, the Cucharas Sanitation and Water District worked out the final details for the long-discussed pond augmentation plan for the Cucharas Valley. Over a dozen landowners were at the meeting to give their input and clarify questions they had about the plan’s details. Although only twenty-two landowners are directly involved, with 30 ponds affected, the potential to have all illegal ponds breached or filled in impacts the future of the scenic quality of the Cucharas Valley and has widespread community interest. About the augmentation plan, Water Commissioner Doug Brgoch said, “I really hope everyone takes advantage of it. I’m glad the District has offered it.” One audience member told the Board, “Your efforts are appreciated.”
According to Brgoch, evaporation off the ponds is the issue at hand. Brgoch admitted pond evaporation has been an issue since the 1970s, and the State Water Engineer has just recently gotten tough on illegal pond owners – those who have ponds but do not own the rights to the water in them. He pointed out that pond evaporation is a problem all over the State, and the most recent aerial survey showed 78,000 surface acres of ponds without water rights in Division 2 alone, accounting for over a quarter-million acre feet of evaporation per year. “Division 2 has the most acute water situation in the State,” Brgoch said. Add to that the fact that the rivers in this watershed are severely overappropriated, plus the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas, and it’s a given that the State Engineer is going to use stronger enforcement in the case of ponds that, in the words of Brgoch, “usurp the property of someone else’s water rights.”
Chair Gerald Van Nort explained the options, “Either sign up or breach the pond.” Pond owners who do not participate in the District’s augmentation plan will be given ten days after July 1 to breach their illegal pond or fill it in.
Using the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s program as an example, the CSWD Board worked out the cost details for the participants and will be notifying them of the “buy in” price (a share of $30,000 in attorney fees and costs), the monthly administrative fee ($10), and the monthly water lease payment ($7.50 per month per tenth of an acre foot of consumptive use/evaporative loss, with a $7.50 minimum). It is expected that contracts with participants will be signed by the next board meeting, July 8. The augmentation plan is a temporary solution, which has to be renewed every year for a maximum of five years. At that point, the District needs to have a permanent solution in place to file in District 2 Water Court, which may involve building new water storage.
In other business, General Manager Bob Northup told the Board there was a water main break on Sunday, June 5. The entire crew responded the same day to dig up the main and fix it. He said the work on the summer sewer project will begin the week of June 13. A new part-time employee has been hired to help with that project. The District will be sponsoring a Trench Safety Awareness class for contractors in the near future.
The new owner of a 1.23 acre parcel of land next to Britton Reservoir, Robert Beck, has indicated he is willing to donate the parcel to the District if the District pays for the survey and the closing costs.

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