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Water District Gathers Input for State Water Plan

 WALSENBURG— The first of three public meetings to gather input for Colorado’s new water plan was held April 16 at the Spanish Peaks Library in Walsenburg, with about a dozen people in attendance. Sandy White, Vice-president on the Board of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District, gave an overview of the projects the district is involved in, and Al Tucker, local municipal representative to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable (ABR), summarized the 18 project ideas received so far which have been proposed to address the basin’s water supply needs locally. Tucker said Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order which instructed state agencies, coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to develop and finalize a new state water plan by December 2015. The first draft is due on the governor’s desk by the end of 2014. According to the Colorado water plan website (www.colorado.gov/cowaterplan), “Colorado’s Water Plan will provide a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy

watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.” There is a fair contingent of water users who wonder what weight will be given to the state water plan once it is finished, considering the Prior Appropriation Doctrine which governs the allocation of Colorado’s water resources. What troubles them is that, if the public comments are any indication, there is support for the idea of revising Colorado’s “first in use, first in right” and “use-it-or-lose-it” system of water rights. The public comments that have been received through March 3, 2014 and published on the web site run the gamut, including consideration of the millions of gallons of groundwater available, limiting growth in metropolitan areas, and taking no more water from the Western Slope. But by far the most often repeated recommendations are for conservation (and not necessarily voluntary), re-use, increased efficiency, water banks and water-sharing. Each basin roundtable (there are nine around the state) is responsible to contribute a basin implementation plan (BIP) toward the development of the state plan, including obtaining public input. “We’d like to get as much input as possible within the next month,” Tucker said. He explained that having a project listed in the BIP won’t necessarily mean that it will get funded, and, likewise, projects that are not in the BIP won’t necessarily be excluded from funding. “But if you want a chance, get the project listed,” he said. “We need to identify the potential projects, and we will try to push them forward.” Walsenburg Mayor James Eccher came to the meeting prepared to talk about four potential projects the city is proposing. He said water losses by leaks and transfers are causing issues for Walsenburg. Besides Walsenburg’s four projects, the Town of La Veta has submitted three, Cucharas Sanitation and Water District has submitted three, and Huerfano County Water Conservancy District has submitted eight. “We’re competing,” Tucker said, referring to the other 18 counties which are members of the ABR. “We have a lot of issues. We have needs. We’re right at the front of the line.” One of those needs, not just locally but statewide, is more reservoir storage. “Storage is right at the top,” Tucker said. Half of the proposed BIP projects in Huerfano County involve dams and reservoirs. Tucker said, in light of the recent devastating wildfires, “Watershed protection is huge, not only with the state but also with the federal government. All of our legislative reps are pushing for watershed protection.” Fire mitigation is the basis for two of the submitted projects: Huerfano Basin Pre-fire Mitigation Project and Cucharas Basin Pre-fire Mitigation Implementation Project – an advanced phase of the assessment project that is currently underway – in which mitigation structures identified in the assessment would actually be funded and installed. “We have tens of thousands of dead piñons in Huerfano County,” Tucker said. He encouraged landowners to clean up debris and fallen wood, warning that insurance companies are beginning to refuse coverage for properties with dead trees. The other project ideas that have been submitted to date include: Rehabilitate and repurpose defunct Daigre and Wahatoya reservoirs; rehabilitate Mill Lake; repurpose Maria Lake; Huerfano Basin and Cucharas Basin Regional Augmentation Plans; rehabilitate Cucharas Dam #5; reservoir on South Baker Creek; streambank intake structure in Cuchara; enlarge the snow-making storage pond at the ski area in Cuchara; repair and modify Walsenburg’s city water tank; repair five Walsenburg reservoir dams per state requirements; replace raw water transport and distribution line from La Veta head-gate to Walsenburg; replace treated water line from water treatment plant to Walsenburg city limits; expansion of La Veta Town Lakes; complete La Veta’s transfer of its Mexican Ditch water rights; purchase of water rights on the Cucharas River and reservoir development. The other public input sessions will be held April 25 at 7:00 pm at the Gardner Community Center and April 29 at 7:00 pm at the La Veta Library meeting room. The public is strongly encouraged to attend one of these meetings.