by Carol Dunn
On April 8, the Board of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District met with Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte and water commissioner Doug Brgoch to study existing and potential water storage locations in the Cuchara River drainage of Huerfano County.
With the help of Mark Perry, dam safety engineer, Brgoch shared his extensive knowledge of water rights, change cases, and the capacity and critical function of each existing reservoir. On paper, it appears there exists storage space for 17,455 acre-feet of water on the Cucharas, including used and unused capacity in La Veta’s Town Lakes, Wahatoya, Daigre, Mill Lake (breached), Walsenburg’s City Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Martin Lake, Holita, Maria Lake and Cucharas No. 5. With a sketchy white-board map, Perry showed the assembled group the approximate location of each water storage structure and explained the quality or integrity of each dam structure. He indicated that there are also two old potential storage sites south of Holita at Sharp’s Orchard and LaJoya. The feasibility of using fewer and larger reservoirs was kicked around.
Regarding Cucharas No. 5, owned by Two Rivers, Perry explained, “Roughly about half full of it is full of silt now. There’s about 35,000 acre-feet of silt. That dam was raised multiple times. They basically raised it each time it silted in.”
The group identified the organizations with needs or opportunities which could be potential partners in assuring adequate storage for future Huerfano County water needs. Those potential partners are Cucharas Sanitation and Water District (CSWD), Town of La Veta, City of Walsenburg, Two Rivers Water Company and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.
In the past, the water conservancy district board has discussed its intention to eventually form a separate blanket augmentation plan for both the Cucharas and the Huerfano River basins.
Board member Sandy White asked Witte, “What is the market for augmentation water?” Brgoch explained there is a potential need for augmentation for private landowner ponds that do not have adjudicated water rights on both rivers. Although there is currently a substitute water supply plan for a number of private ponds in the Cuchara Valley, Brgoch said the organizer of that plan, the CSWD, has not formally decided whether it will file a permanent augmentation plan in water court. If not, there would be an immediate market for augmentation water in that area. In addition, each subdivision using a community well that is not already covered by an augmentation plan would also be a potential customer. For instance, Lindsey Case has plans to build 5,000 houses at the northern end of Huerfano County, which would require a change case on the water rights already owned by Two Rivers but pledged to Case. Brgoch said, “There’s always people who want something that requires CU (consumptive use) water. They haven’t understood so far what it takes to get to that point.” Instead of having to go to court, “They’d much rather pull out their checkbook and just write a check.” The district would have basically gone through the headache to file the plan so individual water users don’t have to.
The district is considering applying for a grant from the Arkansas Valley Roundtable to do a full water needs assessment of the Cucharas basin. Witte, explained, “It would be identifying needs and trying to quantify them. Seeing what people have …,” and White added, “…on a reconnaissance level.” Brgoch suggested it’s time for the district to approach the other potential partners and tell them, “We’re here, let’s look to cooperate. We need to co-op at least in this area.” Perry added, “Even if you only take a leadership role.”