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Water follows the money

by Reed White
HUERFANO — “Water doesn’t flow up or down; water follows money,” according to Kent Mace. That was one of many interesting one-liners from a presentation on water sponsored by the La Veta Public Library on the evening of Thursday, March 22.
Rita Kasper, a La Veta teacher, and one of her students made a presentation regarding their water-quality monitoring project, the Colorado River Watch Program. After their presentation, Kent Mace cited anecdotes about water in the Gardner area.
Through hard knocks, Kent has become self-educated in some of the intricacies of water rights. He told the saga of securing water from the Malachite Spring near Gardner. He followed that with some words about Gardner’s recent problems with water rights. It was becoming clear that significant expenses and delays are the norm.
Kent is a member of the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District, which receives $15,000 per year in tax dollars to watch over the county’s water. The group actually needs more like $100,000 per year. Why? Because viable water rights cost money, and because legal expenses are astronomical. As Doug Brgoch noted, “Colorado has more water attorneys than all the rest of the world.”
Doug Brgoch is a supervisor and the State Water Commissioner for District 16. He continued the discussion by explaining with clarity and humor some aspects of the legal maze of water law. At the same time, listeners got the picture that water law, in total, would be as clear as mud to all but a water attorney or obsessed layman.
Most people would be surprised to learn that the State of Colorado owns all of the water in the state except for the 65% that goes to other states. Water users are granted rights to use the state’s water, which may or may not actually be available — no guarantees. With rarely enough water in supply to meet all of the demands in Colorado, water availability has become a shell game that is primarily the domain of attorneys and the courts.
The above is just a sample of the fascinating water lore from the two speakers.
In summary, Colorado has serious water problems. Due to decreased snowmelt and to population growth, the problems are getting worse. Entities that can afford to are buying up the rights from less affluent citizens, mostly from farmers and ranchers. To reduce the potential for future economic damage to the citizens of Huerfano County, it seems clear that preventive measures should be taken without delay.