On August 3, Phase 1 construction began on the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District’s Regional Augmentation Facility/Pond. The facility is located on Sheep Mountain Ranch, which is a few miles northwest of Gardner, and it encompasses roughly 20 acres. Phase 1 of construction involves the removal of vegetation and overburden and preparing the site for a gravel operation. Huerfano County and the District developed an intergovernmental agreement that the County would remove the gravel present at the facility site, leaving a hole that will be finished as the pond. The county plans to begin mining the gravel around the beginning of September. The contractor for this project is Paul Morgan Excavating (PME), based in La Veta. PME won the bid in a competitive process for $333,410.50. TZA Water Engineers from Lakewood designed the reservoir, and their project engineer Jonathan Bisulca has been making weekly inspections to make sure that the project has been progressing on schedule. Bisulca remarked that the augmentation project is unique in that “it’s a community effort to help out the community. It’s not private or for profit.” Most of the people and entities involved in the project are local. Carol Dunn, the District’s administrator, said, “None of us involved in the Conservancy District ever imagined that it would take nine years for the project to get to this point. We’re all relieved that the construction is underway and glad to have the plan adjudicated.” According to Dunn, the last step for the District is establishing the rules and regulations for the operation of the augmentation plan, which the District is currently working on.
Under Colorado water law, there are senior and junior rights. Senior rights are able to use the available water first. In the entire Arkansas River Basin, all of the water is appropriated and all of the water rights have been claimed. Any new use by a subdivision or commercial business in need of water must get water from an owner of a senior water right. Since buying the William Craig Ranch in 2014, the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District is one of those senior water right owners. Between 2014 and 2016, the District went to water court to change the use of that Ranch’s water from agricultural to a variety of water uses which qualify for an augmentation plan. The plan received final adjudication in November of 2016, and the next required step for the District was to build a reservoir. An integral part of the augmentation plan requires storage of the water until it is needed for augmented uses. If a commercial entity requires water, they do not have to get it from the Water Conservancy District, but they have to get it from a senior water right owner. Entities can either buy senior water rights or purchase water through the District’s augmentation plan. Availability of water is a driving economic force in any area of Colorado, and having water available under the augmentation plan promises to contribute to Huerfano County’s economic development.