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Gardner public input sought in second meeting on state water plan

GARDNER — On April 25, a second meeting was held at the Gardner Community Center to gather local input into Colorado’s new State Water Plan. Kent Mace, president of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District (HCWCD) convened the meeting, with about three dozen Gardner-area residents in attendance. Mace explained that Governor John Hickenlooper is trying, in advance, to find solutions to water shortages that have been forecasted for the state by the year 2050, at which point Colorado’s population is expected to have doubled. Mace said “dry-up of agricultural land is not favorable” to the Governor as a solution to the future water needs of the metropolitan areas. The comments from meeting attendees indicated that they were concerned about water being taken from agricultural lands, particularly the beef and vegetable/produce industries. Mace assured them that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, of which Mace is a member representing

HCWCD, is “standing up for the ranchers and ag businesses.” Mace’s son Amos, a hydrologist, said the roundtable’s priority is “keeping water on the land.” The roundtable has called for public input into its Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), which will be forwarded to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the state water plan. Mace told the attendees that one feature of the state water plan is to define new sources of water for metropolitan areas, and that search has led to Colorado’s Western Slope. “The Western Slope is not happy,” Mace said. He acknowledged that this temporarily takes the pressure off water being moved out of Huerfano County, then added, “Two Rivers met a buzz saw here. But if it’s not Two Rivers, it’ll be someone else.” Huerfano County Commissioner Ray Garcia, former water commissioner on the Huerfano River, said, “We’re lucky people haven’t come in here and bought up all the water rights already.” Some attendees recalled aloud the efforts of Jerry Mills to do just that in the not-too-distant past. Garcia also cautioned the group, “Some state legislators would like to see the water laws change,” referring to Colorado’s Prior Appropriation Doctrine. Garcia reminded everyone that most of the voters are in the metropolitan areas, where water is needed, and those the constituents will elect representatives who will secure the water they need. In light of this reality, Mace said, “Huerfano County is standing up for its water.” He gestured to a stack of Basin Implementation Plan input forms and told attendees, “I need you to show up here on paper and as a community.” He asked attendees to submit ideas for water projects, adding, “The agricultural cause is hugely important.” One of the projects being submitted to the poundtable BIP and on to the state water plan involves the efforts of HCWCD in the Huerfano River basin. “The board set out to solve the domestic water supply issues on the Huerfano River,” Mace said. “As you know, there was no legal domestic water for Gardner.” He also listed the other junior water users in the basin that were involved in the initial plan: CO61 Water Association, Paradise Acres Homeowners Association, Malachite Spring and Huerfano County. Mace explained that the use of the Gardner Water & Sanitation District wells harmed senior water rights holders for about 75 years. “The state threatened to have Gardner water shut off,” he said. In the process of getting the group of junior water users, referred to as participants, legal, Mace said, “We had no idea the amount of money involved to bring water to the residents along the Huerfano River.” He explained the magnitude of what’s being done for western Huerfano County, including an increased mill levy that brings in about $250,000 annually. “We’ve leveraged that to come up with $2.5 million for a ranch,” he said. The former William Craig Ranch has about 1,000 acres, 120 of those irrigated, and #7 water rights. Mace said there is more than enough water on the ranch to make the other water rights holders on the river “whole.” HCWCD had used leased water for five years for its temporary substitute water supply plan, but the permanent regional augmentation plan, just filed in District 2 Water Court in December, requires permanent water rights. He explained the plan for moving the ranch’s #7 water right upstream to satisfy the augmentation needs of Gardner and the other participants. “The legal framework is mind-boggling,” Mace said. He described the augmentation plan as “a pre-engineered plan, with all the attorney work, for water augmentation, and it’s huge.” Mace said an augmentation plan is generally out of reach for one person to file and pay for. “Any water that drains into the Huerfano River is part of this plan,” he said, adding that it will not include anything outside the county boundaries. It was explained that someone who wants to start a business, for instance a greenhouse or bed & breakfast, in the Huerfano basin will now have a legal source of water. “This is now a water-solid community,” Mace said. “The rest of the county stood behind us. You guys are blessed – your water problems are taken care of here.” Mace publicly lauded the newest HCWCD Board member Al Garcia, brother of Ray Garcia. He explained that Al Garcia has saved the district thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of dollars on engineering fees and by hiring local people to work on the recharge and augmentation facilities in the Red Wing area. Mace confirmed that HCWCD will have to go through the county’s relatively new 1041-permit process, which allows the county to regulate activities of statewide interest, at a cost of about $40,000. Dale Lyon, who is deeply invested in the environmental health of the Gardner area, told Mace, “The amount of work the water conservancy district has put into this is enormous . . . and I applaud you for doing it.” As Mace previously mentioned, his Malachite Spring is one of the participants in the HCWCD augmentation plan. Mace said people have been taking water from the spring for about 75 years, and that use is a junior water right, filed in 2006. “It has been my greatest hope that the spring could have stayed open,” he said. Over the past five years, Mace has spent over $15,000 so the spring could participate in the temporary plan. The State Division of Water Resources required that a meter be installed, and once that happened, the true extent of the spring’s output and use were officially recorded – about three acre-feet per year. Mace said, “This year’s bill is $12,000 to keep it open and in place.” Then an emotional Mace told the crowd, “I’m tapped out.” Although donations have trickled in, the total amount collected has only been enough to “jet clean” the spring to keep it flowing. “It’s up to the state if they’ll shut it down this year,” he said. Mace explained that he cannot charge for the water at the spring or his operation becomes a public utility, bringing with it a prohibitive set of rules and regulations. One meeting attendee got nods from others when she described neighbors visiting with each other as they waited to fill up their water tanks, and then she lamented, “It’s a community at that spring.” Mace said the county commissioners are planning to install a pay station in Gardner as part of the new water system, and that plan was verified by County Commissioner Garcia. Mace said, “This area deserves a clean, purified water source.” The tap is expected to be installed in 2014 or 2015.