by Eva Benine
AGUILAR — This story has a long history… almost as old as Aguilar itself.
Many years ago, a large parcel of land to the southeast of town was owned and managed by the McEnerney brothers. They ran the ranch and taught at the local high school. L.C. and BB McEnerney, entered into an agreement with the town of Aguilar concerning their water rights. The McEnerney ranch had more shares of water than they used, and agreed to allow the Town of Aguilar to use water year round because the town did not have the capacity to store the water. Aguilar is not allowed to “take” water from mid -March – October 15 of every year, they have to store water they pump from mid October – mid March of each year because the Apishapa River is dry during that time.
Once the McEnerney ranch sold to Gary Waller and son, the water rights became an issue.
Back in 2004-2005, then town council and then Mayor Don Starbuck purchased water rights from Mike Chavez on the old Pasquin place. The purchase of 29 shares of water came with an agreement to build an augmentation pond to the west of town to hold water pumped from wells up the canyon during the winter months. Near the end of his tenure as mayor, Starbuck enlisted the help of FEI Engineers of Greenwood Village, to help evaluate existing structures and infrastructure, as well as propose plans for the augmentation pond west of town. Bob Frachetti, President of FEI, made the four-hour trip from Denver to present his findings to Mayor Pro Tem Leland Gulley and the town council on August 2, 2012. FEI did a complete evaluation of the current waste water treatment facility (lagoon) east of town using a $10,000 USDA grant applied for by FEI finance specialist, Susan Mc Cannon. It was their recommendation to remodel the wastewater lagoon and reuse much of the waste water to water the school grounds/football field and town park, as well as building an augmentation pond. According to the report, reuse of the wastewater using modern methods would save as much water as possible for the town, which had been suffering from severe drought and several water court issues.
For whatever reason, plans with FEI did not come to fruition, and another engineering firm, SGM of Glenwood Springs, was brought in to complete an engineering assessment and plans for the reservoir. In late December of 2014, the Town of Aguilar negotiated a consent decree with Division 2 in water courts. The town needed to submit a plan for augmentation, including a reservoir to be used for water storage, according to Commissioner for Division 2 Steve Witte. This plan, including completed applications for funding for the construction of the reservoir, needed to be in his office by January 1, 2016. This is the “benchmark” that was missed by the Town of Aguilar.
Town clerk Tyra Avila said the delay was in getting information back from the engineering firm, and that the materials were submitted to the attorney general’s office in early March. Witte said the main component that needed to be submitted was a completed application for funding, and when he still had not received that in his office by April, he served notice on the town, as was per the agreement in the decree, that there would be no outside watering by residents of Aguilar.
Witte said he received a copy of a “pre-qualification form submitted to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for monies from their Drinking Water Revolving Fund Loan.” According to the CDPHE website, in order to apply for a Drinking Water Revolving Fund Loan, a town/entity must first complete the “required pre-application steps including: prequalification form, prequalification SRF agency review, pre-application meeting, prequalification review letter, project needs assessment and environmental review, and plans and specification submission.” Once the evidence of completed application forms for funding are received by Witte, he will lift the ban on outside watering. He cautioned the town has additional benchmarks that must be met, with the first being June 30, 2016, when it is required that an update be provided on the progress on the construction and loan be provided to his office.
On the matter of those no longer allowed to haul water because of the outside water ban enforced in Aguilar, Witte said an amendment to the purchaser’s original agreement with the town, stating that the water being hauled is for “domestic use only” will allow the customer to continue to purchase water from the town. If an amendment is not added to the agreement, the customer may send a signed affidavit to Witte via the town clerk, and that will suffice.
This information has been passed on to the town clerk, and she said she would be in touch with Witte and his office. She said they had several applications in for funding, and it should not be an issue. Only time will tell.
Townspeople are frustrated, the town council is frustrated, and the town clerk is frustrated. After visiting with Witte on the phone Tuesday afternoon, it was determined the issue was a missing application for funding. Once the required documentation is submitted and all future benchmarks are met, water will be flowing in Aguilar again.
CORRECTION: The previous article that ran about Aguilar’s watering restrictions had several inaccuracies regarding where the water came from and who it belonged to. Apologies to the Waller family for the incorrect information. For more details view the Letters to the Editor section.