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More water problems looming for Gardner

by Carol Dunn
GARDNER — A stern letter dated July 5, 2012 to all Gardner water customers has the town’s residents worried about their water future again.
The letter, from the County Commissioners and signed by John Galusha, informed water customers that they are on “indoor use only” water restrictions as of July 1, 2012. And indoor use means just that: no watering of gardens, lawns or livestock is permitted using water delivered through Gardner Water & Sanitation Department meters. The letter states that if water users violate the restriction, their meter will be disconnected.
The letter was prompted by a complicated water situation in Gardner. The town does not have an adjudicated source of municipal water, so it uses wells for this purpose. Unfortunately, those wells are junior water rights and, by the letter of Colorado Water Law, are not a legal use of water.
Gardner area residents breathed a collective sigh of relief in 2009 when a Rule 14 well augmentation plan was filed by the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District Water Activity Enterprise. The plan brought the out-of-priority use of the wells into compliance using substitute water leased on the Martin Ditch.
However, there are a few snags in the plan. The plan is temporary until a permanent source of water can be purchased and an official water court case filed. The current augmentation water is only leased. The enterprise does not own a reservoir to store the water when it is in priority. As Dawson puts it, “We would not have this problem if we had augmentation water in storage that we could release.”
Further, the water rights being leased, #4 and #11, are not high enough in priority this year to withstand the short water conditions caused by the drought. When the water rights go out of priority, then the plan is not in compliance, and the wells used to provide water to Gardner are no longer legal. The Colorado State Water Engineer’s Office could shut down the wells at that point, but it has chosen not to do so at this time, allowing restricted use.
Dawson Jordan, Chair of the HCWCD Water Activity Enterprise, explains, “There needs to be a record that everyone is doing their best to conserve the water that is available until the drought improves and our water source comes back into priority.” 
Gardner residents, particularly the elderly, are concerned about the plan being out of compliance and the potential need to haul water as the drought drags through its second year. And the source some Gardner-area people use for hauling water, Malachite Spring, is also covered under the augmentation plan, so the same water restrictions apply to the water obtained there. Also under restrictions are Paradise Acres Homeowners, the Huerfano County Road & Bridge Department and CO Water Association.
The recent rains in the area are a welcome relief. According to Jordan, the #4 water was put back into priority on July 7, temporarily. But the prolonged drought conditions have left Huerfano County at about half its normal precipitation totals, and it will take a lot more rain to bring the area’s moisture back to the point it was in 2009. In the meantime, Jordan says, “Let’s hope we continue to get rain enough to stay in priority.”

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