by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG — The Huerfano County Water Conservation District (HCWCD) Water Activity Enterprise, began looking at an optional source of water for its augmentation plans offered up by Two Rivers Water Company Monday evening.
The proposal, first brought up at the September meeting of the HCWCD Enterprise by Two Rivers President and Chief Operating Officer, Gary Barber, attempts to insure augmentation water for the needs of the enterprise and its customers and allow for enough volume of flow to get water to the Orlando Reservoir. As the situation currently stands, neither organization has enough water to satisfy those needs.
Two Rivers will need water brought to the Robert Rice Ditch from the Orlando reservoir in order to irrigate farmland in northern Huerfano County and southern Pueblo County. The farmland is being used to grow organic certified alfalfa to be used in feeding dairy cattle that produce organic certified milk. Because of current drought conditions, there isn’t enough flow rate in the Huerfano River to move the water across I-25 to the Orlando Reservoir. So, the Two Rivers farming operations are suffering.
The HCWCD Water Activity Enterprise will need water to satisfy its augmentation plans for the Gardner Water and Sanitation District, Malachite Spring, Paradise Acres subdivision, the CO 61 Water Association, and Huerfano County for road maintenance and dust mitigation. Two Rivers management feels the plan they offer will satisfy both entities.
In correspondence from Lytle Water Solution, LLC., to HCWCD engineer consultant Ted Zorich Jr, the proposed plan states that, “Water can be stored in Orlando Reservoir, Huerfano Valley Reservoir, and Cucharas Reservoir related to the release of consumable water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works.” Two Rivers has entered into a water lease agreement with Pueblo for 500 acre feet per year.
Lytle is the water resource engineering firm for Two Rivers related to water rights matters on the Huerfano and Cucharas rivers.
Lytle states in the letter that the Pueblo water, “… in addition to the historic consumptive use associated with the Robert Rice ditch that can be stored in Orlando Reservoir, and the direct flow rights of the Orlando canal, can fully augment calls from the … Arkansas River so that HCWCD is protected against any calls from the main stem.
“While the Robert Rice ditch will not always be in priority, it will provide the necessary augmentation water on a year-round basis because it will be changed to a point of diversion at the Orlando canal with subsequent storage in Orlando Reservoir. When there is a call in the intervening reach between the locations of HCWCD out-of-priority depletions and the Two Rivers rights downstream, we assume that your [HCWCD Water Activity Enterprise] current lease of consumptive use credit from the Woods ditch will cover these depletive effects.”
“If HCWCD obtains water storage rights upstream on the Huerfano river to provide augmentation water for local calls, Two Rivers would be willing to work with the HCWCD to exchange additional Robert Rice ditch water to that location to provide augmentation water to prevent injury to any calling right within this intervening reach,” Lytle states in the letter.
Currently the water enterprise is into the third year of a five-year plan based on Rule 14 allowing for a substitute water supply plan (SWSP) “… under the Amended Rules and Regulations Governing the Diversion and Use of Tributary Ground Water in the Arkansas River Basin.”
Being under Rule 14 makes the plan a “… temporary plan and [a] permanent augmentation plan needs to be sought to confirm the long term ability to replace out-of-priority depletions associated with the use of junior water rights in the upper Huerfano River basin,” according to a statement in a letter to the HCWCD Enterprise from Lytle.
The enterprise is currently augmenting with about 10 acre feet being leased from the Woods ditch on Sheep Mountain and about three acre feet from the Lucking Trust this fall only.
Two Rivers has been busy buying up water rights along the Huerfano river in an effort to produce enough flow to satisfy its business plans. When Two Rivers purchased the Orlando Reservoir, they also purchased water rights 1,9,19 and 111.
They are preparing to submit an application to the water court to change the use and point of diversion for the number 19 right, on the Huerfano river and possibly other rights as well. They’ve also filed a motion to change the location of use of water moving through the Robert Rice ditch north into Pueblo County so they can get irrigation to their agricultural operations there. This is a motion the HCWCD has protested in a filing with Division Two Water Court.
According to a memo from Zorich, “The change in the point of diversion for the No. 19 is supposed to be to the Orlando Reservoir No. 2 canal for storage.
“This proposed transfer will be only for the historical consumptive use amount and not the entire three cubic feet per second of the measured flow. That amount will be difficult to determine because of the poor historical records of diversions,” according to Zorich. What that historical consumptive use is, is still being measured.
But having enough water and places to store the water are problems that are growing fast in Huerfano County as the drought deepens. Also as water rights are purchased, they may prove to carry more water than is currently needed. That excess water will need to be stored and, if necessary, released into the Arkansas after irrigation season.
Two Rivers is offering the HCWCD Enterprise storage in the Orlando reservoir.
Zorich states in a memo to the HCWCD Enterprise, “It was my understanding after our field trip [with Two Rivers] that Two Rivers seems to think that the Robert Rice ditch can be diverted currently at the Butte Valley ditch head gate. The diversion point, as changed in Case No. 91CW39 from the original decree, is actually about four miles downstream from there. The Orlando diversion is about 2.5 miles upstream of the Butte Valley ditch.
“The Robert Rice was decreed to irrigate 150 acres. The location or actual acreage amount is unclear at this time.” And it is those 150 acres located in Huerfano County that Two Rivers wants to get the water to. But after looking at spotty records on historical consumptive use, Two Rivers could get as little as 1.5 cubic feet per second from the number 19 at it moves through the ditch and that may not be enough.
The Zorich memo notes that “… There are no guarantees that the number 19 right will be in priority when we need it during the irrigation season, but the ability to store the water is quite valuable for winter replacements as is the potential to keep the call to the Arkansas viable during winter. That ability would enable us to use the Pueblo reservoir water for replacements.
“The No. 19 may not be the best permanent right but in the long run we need a portfolio of rights of all types to continue operating. To actually have ownership of a “right” without a major investment is a step in the right direction. Part of the agreement could also include the ability to use some of their other water rights during years like 2011 when the call eliminated the Woods ditch. They did not include that option in their letters but it was discussed previously and we have to consider it.”
During the Monday evening discussion, water enterprise board member Dawson Jordan brought up the idea that Two Rivers may be seeking a commitment from the HCWCD to not protest the “change of location of use” motion that Two Rivers filed last summer. However he also mentioned that the district and the enterprise couldn’t commit themselves to withhold a protest of a motion that may be filed in the future if it proves to be detrimental to the water needed in Huerfano County.
The HCWCD Water Enterprise Board has scheduled a meeting on Jan. 9, 2012. During the meeting, lawyers from both Two Rivers and the water enterprise will sit with the board and officers of Two Rivers to discuss the details of the issue.
If a deal isn’t struck and the water enterprise can’t locate enough water to maintain its responsibilities to Gardner, Paradise Acres, Malachite Spring, CO 61 Water Association, and the county’s road department, the state will shut off water to them. This will bring about a scramble for water to be used for augmentation. The water enterprise part of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District could collapse, a percentage of Huerfanos would find themselves without water, and lawsuits would be the rule of the day.