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Water rights granted for Dry Gulch

Judge Greg Lyman, Water Division 7, signed the final decree on the joint Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) application for water rights on Oct. 31.

The application was originally filed close to seven years ago, in December 2004. When originally filed, the issue of building a Dry Gulch Reservoir was as contentious a matter as it is now. PAWSD and SJWCD filed for 35,000 acre feet of water rights to be used for storage. After statements of oppositions by Koinonia, Trout Unlimited, the Park Ditch Company and Webber Entities, and two trips to the Colorado Supreme Court, 11,000 acre feet of storage right has been granted. Under successive refill, the reservoir is allowed a combined diversion rate of up to 50 cfs from Park Ditch and/or Dry Gulch Pump Station, in addition to native inflow from the Dry Gulch watershed.

The document was received by both PAWSD and SJWCD; and while PAWSD has not yet put it on an agenda for a public meeting or work session, prior to the SJWCD regular November board meeting, a work session was held with water engineer Steve Harris, who had been previously involved with the Dry Gulch Reservoir project as a consultant. Harris discussed the idea of partnering with other entities to complete the Dry Gulch Reservoir and how to move, now having this final decree, into the future.

“The one word that sums up water projects is persistence,” Harris said. Units of water time, he said, were decades, not months or years. He suggested that SJWCD pick something that is doable.

“It will be a while until you can seriously consider building a reservoir, but you don’t want to let it die either,” he said.

The SJWCD board narrowed down the most immediate actions that could be taken:

1) Discuss with the Pagosa Ranger District the status of the district’s application for a special use permit. The permit would enable the districts to use Forest Service land for the building and future use of a reservoir.

2) Open up talks with the Laverty family as to obtaining the 100 additional acres that would be needed in order to build a 35,000 acre-foot reservoir. Only 18 acres would be needed to build a 11,000 acre-foot reservoir.

3) Put together a promotional package on Dry Gulch with the intent of partnership on the project with another entity.

Allan Bunch, a director on the PAWSD board, gave his recommendation that SJWCD take the lead on this project. “You’ll find quite a bit of resistance on the PAWSD board,” Bunch said. He continued, stating that he felt he could speak on behalf of the PAWSD board, stating that the PAWSD board “will not spend another nickel or dime on Dry Gulch unless something monumental happens.”

“You don’t think PAWSD wants part of the action?” SJWCD director Jack Delange asked Bunch, who responded that PAWSD would like this to succeed, but the energy PAWSD will exert is questionable. “We don’t want us to hold you up,” Bunch said.

When told by Delange that, “Unless PAWSD has all the water in the world, which they don’t, I don’t see why you don’t want a part of this,” Bunch said that PAWSD has conducted major projects to find leaks in the water system and added that the current Capital Improvement Plan does not have a water storage plan for the next 40 years.

PAWSD is the sole loan recipient of a Colorado Water Conservation Board loan issued in September 2008 to purchase the majority of the land needed for the reservoir. The loan amounts to $11,217,000, of which PAWSD has withdrawn $9,219,364 to purchase the Webber Property. SJWCD contributed an additional $1 million, issued in the form of a CWCB grant. Both PAWSD and SJWCD are on the title for the property. Under the terms of the CWCB loan, the project will be finished by September 2012. The first payment on the principal and interest must be made in September 2013. PAWSD has been paying interest, with $302,468 budgeted for this purpose in 2012. SJWCD has also been contributing to the interest payment, paying nearly 10 percent.

During a SJWCD and PAWSD meeting in December 2010, a joint committee was formed to pursue alternative funding mechanisms for the Colorado Water Conservancy Board loan. However, that committee has only met once in the past year.

With it clear that, with the current PAWSD board, there would be no further financial collaboration in pursuit of Dry Gulch Reservoir, SJWCD moved ahead with discussion on possible partnerships. Harris explained that, while the water right received is for 11,000 acre feet of storage, additional water rights may be applied for.

Possible, yet not probable, partners mentioned were the tribal nations of either the Navajos or Southern Utes, The Nature Conservancy, The Walton Foundation or the Forest Service.

Harris mentioned that this case in Pagosa Springs has changed the way most of Colorado works on water projects. Due to the difficulty of obtaining a water right, Harris says that entities now build the reservoir prior to applying for the right.

“Used to be, you’d get a water right and then build the reservoir; now, it’s the other way around,” Harris explained.

During the SJWCD regular meeting, a public hearing on the budget was held.

The beginning balance proposed for the 2012 budget is $224,901, up from $203,705 in 2011. The total revenue budgeted for 2012 is $305,962, of which the bulk comes from $71,384 in general property tax revenue. This number is down significantly from the $102,267 received in 2011.

The words “Dry Gulch” turn up twice in the budget under the heading of expenses. An amount of $22,110 has been allocated in 2012 for Dry Gulch, the amount contributed to the CWCB loan interest payment. Only $1,000 is allocated for Dry Gulch water rights. The other noted expenses are $5,500 for publications/website and another $5,000 for administrative services.

The board approved the budget pending any change in assessed value.

Board member Harold Slavinski’s term is up at the end of this month, and SJWCD is looking for someone to fill this vacancy.

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