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Water Conservancy District protests Two Rivers filing

by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- Monday night, former Huerfano County Water Conservancy District board member John Vucetich weighed in against a controversial filing that, if okayed by the State’s Water Engineer, will change the location of use of irrigation water rights within the Huerfano River Basin.
Two Rivers, in its filing, was hoping to have water available for irrigation use in 2011, however storage of water in the Orlando Reservoir for the year is over. It ended about mid-month. Water for storage in the Huerfano ran for two days, but the Weldon Ditch made a call on it stopping any storage that may have occurred at the Orlando Reservoir.
Vucetich’s argument is based on historical use of water in the Orlando Reservoir. Part of the Two Rivers filing looks at the Butte Valley Ditch, the number one and number nine water right along the Huerfano. “The Robert Rice Ditch hasn’t been used in the past 50 years,” Vucetich said. “There is no history on it of any kind.” Water decisions are based in part on historical use.
Once water leaves the Huerfano River and enters the Orlando Reservoir, it becomes private property and Two Rivers Water Company can do with it as it chooses. “If they succeed in getting this water transfered where do they plan on measuring it?” Vucetich asked.
The important flow gates that sit along the Huerfano that will be used to measure the flows in the area covered by the Two Rivers Substitute Water Supply Plan filing are the Orlando at the outlet, the Butte Valley Ditch and then the Robert Rice Ditch where the stream will be diverted to the Huerfano Valley Ditch headgate, and that’s if there is natural stream flow present.
However, when there is no natural flow, a transit loss of one percent per mile will be assessed to the diversion of upstream sources. “If there’s water in the river it’s a half percent and if there’s no water it’s one percent per mile,” HCWCD Board Vice-chair Dawson Jordan said. The transit charge is water charged against the flow an owner would normally receive.
Questions concerning the information contained in the Two Rivers filing also arose as oral history began to conflict with the record contained on file at the state engineer’s office. The numbers for the Robert Rice Ditch contained in the SWSP filing are diversions and not consumptive use according to the conservancy district’s consultant, Ted M. Zorich, Jr. The “use” must be quantified in order for the SWSP to show beneficial use of the water.
A motion to approve a filing protesting the Two Rivers Water Company SWSP was made and approved on a 4-0 vote. Legal costs to protest the Two Rivers filing will be split between the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District and Huerfano County.
In other business the HCWCD Water Activity Enterprise board voted 4-0 to raise lease rates on augmentation water from $2,500 per acre foot to $4,000 per acre foot. The new rates will be effective for 2011 through 2013. A separate billing will be made when the participating entities have agreed on the new rates.
The Enterprise is also looking at leasing five acre feet of water to Shell Oil when it begins drilling test wells in the Huerfano River and Cucharas River basins.
Protests have been filed against the change of water rights and use of water in the Coler Ditch that is owned by Petroglyph Operating. Protestors are Travis Crawford, the City of Walsenburg, the Cucharas Sanitation & Water District, the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District, Silver Spurs Ranch subdivision, the Colorado Attorney General’s office and the Huerfano County Board of Commissioners. The application for change of water use filed by Petroglyph is currently winding its way through the state engineers office.
In other water news, the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-0 to adopt HB 1286. The bill is sponsored by state Representatives Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and John Becker, R-Fort Morgan.
HB 1286 seeks to streamline the decision-making process on water permits after a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court decision found that water used in coal-bed methane gas extraction is subject to the requirements of tributary water permitting. In the ruling Water Courts were granted the authority over permitting conflicts and appeals.
The bill would give the state engineer’s rules a place in statute. That means that appeals of permit decisions would be routed through the rule-making process instead of through Water Court, and further appeals of those decisions to a Water Court would require a higher standard of proof to overturn earlier rulings in the chain of appeals, according to a report filed in the Pueblo Chieftain on March 18.