by Amos Mace
HUERFANO — We all need to vote to support the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District (HCWCD). Living in this arid climate, water is a very limited resource. Ask any of the people driving around with water tanks in the back of their trucks or the people who have drilled, not just one but maybe two or three, dry wells. People right here in Huerfano County go to great lengths to make sure they have water in their homes to use. Anyone thinking of trying to open a business outside of city limits quickly finds out there is no water available. Those are the businesses who might employ us.
Colorado is managed by a set of rules called the “Doctrine of Prior Appropriation.” Simply stated, the first person to legally claim right to use water on a stream system has the “senior” right to continue using said water. The reason for those rules is to protect the investment of time, money, and energy it takes for someone to divert water from its natural course and put it to use.
The problem arises when all the water is “appropriated” and a “junior” priority may be the only “right” to water a person may have, which means they may never actually receive even a drop.
It is true, if you own 35 acres or more, you can drill an “exempt” well. However, just because the state issues you a “Permit to Drill a Residential Water Well,” and you have somebody tell you where to drill the well, that does not mean you will hit water, that the water will be good enough quality to use, or the well will produce enough water for your needs.
If your well does not work out, you have no other right to water. Even if your well is good and produces ample water, it can only be used for residential purposes or running a small agricultural business. You cannot use water from that well to operate any other type of business on your property, including a home office. There are no exemptions for any other type of business.
If you are determined to open a non-agricultural business or home office on your property, you have two options. First, you can go through major court cases, real estate transactions, and, likely, permitting procedures with large costs requiring commitment and time. That is hard to do, unless your business is already big – big like an oil company.
Your second option is to work with the local water conservancy district. Water conservancy districts, in many areas of the state, have already gone through all those necessary hoops and have developed water augmentation plans. These plans allow “junior” water rights to use water without causing harm to “senior” water rights. Therefore, you can open your business with only a junior water right.
There are people in Huerfano County who have been using water without a legitimate “right” or “privilege” for a very long time, many without even knowing it. These people need to understand the State of Colorado knows who has the right to use water and who does not. If augmentation plans are not developed, it won’t be a question of growth, it will be a question of how many people will be forced to leave.
The details are complex, but everyone needs to support the HCWCD. The HCWCD will provide a pathway for people to secure their water, similar to what the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Ute Water Conservancy District done with their augmentation plans.
It doesn’t mean they “give” water to anyone. It means those needing water will have access to use said water through a plan developed by HCWCD.
If Huerfano County residents choose to vote in yes on 5A and 5B in November, HCWCD will have the ability to fight for our water and develop the plans to keep it in our county.
If Huerfano residents do not pass the mill levy, another group of people somewhere else will be able to do what HCWCD wants to do in Huerfano County and our water could be used in other places rather than here. That would ultimately mean Huerfano County would not be able to use the water originating here.
Clearly, anywhere water is such a scarce commodity, proper augmentation is needed. We as Huerfano County residents need to be alert to the issue so we can keep our water in our county.
This article is a simplified overview of a complex topic. Because this is such an important topic, the HWJ will be breaking down the specifics of water augmentation and its importance to the residents in Huerfano County over the next several weeks.