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Source for Gardner water has come forward

by Carol Dunn

GARDNER- The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District may have located a source for temporary augmentation water as the first step in developing a blanket augmentation plan for the Huerfano River.

    At its February 23 meeting, the HCWCD Board heard from Grady Grissom, a partner in the 1100-acre Sheep Mountain Ranch, located near Gardner.  The Ranch water right is the Reed 18/Woods Ditch, decreed at 112 acre-feet per year.  “There’s an overall fit here,” Grissom said.  “In agriculture you buy a piece of land and spend the rest of your life trying to make it cash-flow.”  Grissom told the Board that he and his business partner, Rob Lovelace, can envision a long-term annual flow of cash from the Ranch’s water rights.  At the meeting, Grissom was talking about a lease, but the Board seemed only inclined to consider a lease on a 3-5 year basis.  Attorney Jim Felt said, “My strongest recommendation is for ownership.”  For a lease situation, Grissom suggested a $600 per acre-foot annual lease payment for the current need of seven acre-feet of water.

    Board chairman Raymond Harriman pointed out, “We’re not like the larger water conservancy districts.  We don’t have any storage.  We’re starting from scratch.”  Grissom said that he and Lovelace might be willing to put a reservoir on the property, prompting an encouraged Felt to point out that only wintertime depletions will need to be stored.  Regarding Grissom’s overall proposal, Felt said, “This is all very negotiable.”  

    When Grissom added that long-term financing might be possible, Board member Erin Jerant replied, “This sounds too good to be true.”

    Grissom and Lovelace have some work to do before they can enter into actual negotiations with HCWCD.  The water right needs to be appraised and quantified so zoning of the water use can be changed from irrigation to augmentation.  The efficiency of historical irrigation will need to be determined.  

    Grissom said, “We need to figure out something in a short time frame that gets the State out of the picture, so everybody can figure out how to move forward.”  He said Lovelace may be favorable toward a long-term lease, something Felt characterized as “99 years, just about the same thing as ownership without the deed.”  Long term, Grissom even suggested that Sheep Mountain Ranch may be willing to subsidize the cost to Gardner and Redwing/Malachite Spring because “they’ve been caught in a bad situation.”

    The Board set a special work session for March 4 at 6:00 pm at Walsenburg City Hall to enter into negotiations with Grissom and Lovelace. 

    Steve Wachterman, representing the Gardner Sanitation and Water District, told the Board the District 2 Water Court has given GSWD an extension until April 1 to come up with an augmentation plan.