by Edie Flanagin
LA VETA- A crowd of about 60 interested Huerfanos received a semester’s worth of water education last Thursday in a forum sponsored by the La Veta Public Library. County Commissioner Scott King, State water Commissioner for districts 16, 79, 19 and 18 Doug Brgoch and Huerfano World Journal reporter Bill Knowles shared their knowledge of Huerfano County water issues in the two hour meeting.
Scott King went quickly over the responsibilities of the county in controlling water use. Basically, he said the commissioners have little or no control over water use. The county owns no water rights of their own. What the county has done is to put more “teeth” into their 1044 regulations that require anyone moving into the county to show they have a source of water for their property. This regulation was recently adopted by the commissioners. As far as granting drilling permits or other land use issues, the responsibility to prove water availability is again up to the entity submitting the permit.
Bill Knowles then gave a history of the Two Rivers Water Company. Two Rivers has been obtaining water rights in Huerfano County including storage and flow rights along the Huerfano River and the Cucharas River. According to statements by the company, the plan is to re-irrigate 1000’s of acres of agricultural fields in southeastern Pueblo County with their water. The company has secured several large loans to rehabilitate dams and ditches in Eastern Huerfano County. The Cucharas reservoir and Orlando reservoirs are the main two storage facilities gained by the company. The company has applied for a substitute water supply plan (SWSP) to move water from the area below Orlando reservoir into Pueblo County. However, due to lack of available water, the proposed irrigation of fields in Pueblo County can not be done this year. Knowles pointed out several press releases from Two Rivers which seem to contradict each other… is the water to be used for agriculture or for export to the Denver area? Knowles promised the audience that as soon as permits get filed with the Water District, the Huerfano World Journal will report.
The final panel member speaking was Doug Brgoch who has an encyclopedic knowledge of water issues in southern Colorado. Brgoch gave a brief history of how water rights came into existence in Colorado. All water in Colorado belongs to the State of Colorado. When the constitution was adopted in 1878 there were only two offices named by statute: Sheriff and the State Water Engineer. The State water engineer is now the Division of Water Resources which controls and administers water and water rights in Colorado. Water rights in Colorado are serious business, Brgoch knows of two recent disputes that ended in shootings in this area. The division of water resources job is to make sure the water goes where, when and to whom it is supposed to go according to decreed water rights.
Brgoch pointed out that his “clients” are the rivers he administers. The health of the rivers is his job. Unfortunately the State Division of Water Resources deals only with quantity of water, not quality. Water quality is the under the administration of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
After a short break, the panel reconvened for a question and answer session. Questions about fracking fluids, the deep wells proposed by Shell Energy, and how water will effect future growth of the county dominated the rest of the evening.
King assured the audience that Huerfano County has adopted the strictest coal bed methane (CBM) rules in the state. The rules adopted ensure the quality of the water produced by CBM does not adversely effect Huerfano County supplies. Brgoch explained how the geology of the Poison Canyon formation in Huerfano county makes CBM mining “iffy.” Petroglyph Energy is closing all their CBM wells in Huerfano County in the next few months.
The panel and (Commissioner Roger Cain, a member of the audience) answered specific questions about the proposed Shell deep well drilling rigs that were approved by the commission earlier this year. The 12,000 foot well will not need fracking fluids because the overburden provides the pressure to force out the gas. The five acre feet of water asked for by Shell for the well could come from the City of Walsenburg’s excess water supply if a SWSP is filed.
Finally, a question was asked as to how the commissioners can limit growth in Huerfano County. King pointed out that there is no way, nor does the commission want to, stop growth in Huerfano County. What the commissioners want, he said, is “smart growth” which will ensure that the quality of life in Huerfano County is maintained.
The water forum is the first of a series of educational programs being sponsored by the La Veta Library and scheduled by Adult Education Program Coordinator Elaine Byers. The next event will be the showing of “Gasland” an academy award winning documentary about CBM drilling on May 19. To suggest program topics contact Byers at the La Veta Library, 742-3572.