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Water Conservancy District purchases Camp Ranch, water rights

WALSENBURG— The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District has contracted to purchase the thousand-acre Camp Ranch in Huerfano County, together with its senior water rights on the Huerfano River, for a total purchase price of $1.85 million. Closing of the purchase is expected by early next year, after district lawyers and engineers ensure that the water rights meet the district’s needs.
For the past several years, the district actively sought to purchase senior water rights to provide a reliable and permanent source of augmentation water for out-of-priority water users, including Huerfano County, CO61 Water Association, Paradise Acres Homeowners Association, Malachite Spring and Gardner Water & Sanitation District.
Before the end of July, the district will apply for a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to finance the water/land purchase and to construct augmentation facilities.
The district anticipates the use of the water rights in a Huerfano River Basin Regional Plan for Augmentation to be filed with the Water Court for Division 2. The plan would allow the continuance of junior water uses within the basin that are otherwise at risk of being curtailed due to water rights administration under the Colorado prior appropriation doctrine.
Until now the district has provided augmentation water on a temporary basis using leased water rights. With the current drought, however, water users on the Huerfano River faced the real prospect of being shut down by the state. “The water rights now under contract provide a solution, being a strong basis for a permanent, court-approved water augmentation plan that will work during the driest of years,” said Kent Mace, HCWCD Board president. “Credit goes to the Huerfano County voters who approved a mill levy increase in 2012, thus making this purchase possible. It will not only provide reliable augmentation water, but it will also serve to keep Huerfano County water in Huerfano County.” Having found a solution to the most pressing water problem on the Huerfano River, the district will now focus on the Cucharas River Basin.
In a letter to the district, Division Water Engineer Steve Witte enthusiastically supported “the district in its efforts to develop the regional augmentation plan through acquisition of senior water rights.”