LA VETA- The La Veta town board sponsored a forum Tuesday and afterward decided it would support the proposed mill levy increase for the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District.
Five board members attended and questioned Kent Mace, HCWCD board member, about the benefits of the tax increase.
“The people of La Veta together will contribute about $18,000 per year to this project,” Mayor Jerry Fitzgerald said. “What will they get for that?” Mace replied, “We’re talking economy. Hopefully more people come thru town; hopefully there will be augmentation water so the town can grow.”
County administrator John Galusha added, “La Veta doesn’t exist in a capsule. It depends on tourism, agricultural residents and the land around it. The leverage of this money will help the La Veta economy.”
A brochure explains that the increased funding will help purchase water rights and develop reservoirs to keep Huerfano County water in Huerfano County.
Some of the best water rights have already been sold. “It’s the Conservancy District’s job to get the next best water rights and hold them back for us in the county,” Mace said. “There is no water in the county. The town of La Veta has water. Walsenburg has water. But if a business wants to open in the county – that’s a commercial water use, and there is no water for that.”
Lonnie Brown mentioned another need. Most of the county is subdivided into 35-acre parcels. “There are county regulations that building permits need a legal source of water,” Brown said. “If there were to be any other rural subdivisions that will require water, where are they going to get that water?” Galusha agreed, “This could provide water that they could afford.”
How would Walsenburg benefit? “Walsenburg has five dams, and each one has a Corps of Engineers violation of some sort,” Galusha said. “The mill levy could provide a match for the city to take care of its violations.” Ditto for La Veta. “If the Conservancy District did own water rights, and for instance the town needed to drain one of its lakes, the district could help refill those lakes,” Galusha said.
HCWCD also defends water rights. Trustee Nancy Dick said that some people don’t want to “bail out Gardner,” but added that they are “laboring under misapprehensions.”
Trustee Dale Davis agreed. “This is an issue for the whole county,” he said. “This county needs to get together and unite, because as a city or as a town we can’t fight the people who are coming in here to take this [water] over. They have the big bucks.” Galusha added, “At the very least we need to have the resources to fight people who will try to take the water… We can’t stop all the water from leaving the county. We need the resources to negotiate to keep something.”
County Commissioner Scott King said, “There are some people who don’t care if we grow or not. That’s their right. But we’re going to lose our ability to sustain ourselves. This should have been done 20 years ago, but you can’t go back. I don’t want to wish 15 years from now that we would have done something.” King said the mill levy increase is “the right thing.”
When water rights in Crowley County were sold to Aurora, Galusha said, “They lost their land stewards,” leaving “a weed infested prairie.”
Businesses were abandoned after the water was moved. “I think every business in this community should get behind this and promote it,” said Davis, adding that, without protecting water, “There won’t be anyone to support businesses.”
Mace explained that, as cities require more water, it’s unlikely that highly productive lands … in the San Luis Valley will be dried up; rather Huerfano County will be targeted: “This will impact property values.”
As Trustee Dave Molyneaux put it, “It’s an either-or situation.” Either Huerfano residents control the fate of the county’s water, or someone else will.
King’s final question best summed it up, “Are the people of the county willing to invest this money to protect the county’s best asset?”
We’ll find out on November 6.