Why a Regional Augmentation Plan?
In 2008, the Gardner Water and Sanitation District found itself without augmentation water for its three wells, which serviced about 75 customers at that time. Up to that point, the Wolf Springs Ranch was providing augmentation water until its water services discontinued. Once Gardner no longer received water from Wolf Springs, it was out of compliance, and a state engineer warned that if another source was not found, Gardner would not be allowed to furnish water to residents or the town’s school. The town of Gardner came to the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District (HCWCD) and, since water augmentation is a function of Water Conservancy Districts across the state, HCWCD looked into developing one. The State Engineer’s office attended the first meetings that investigated the plan. It encouraged the District to develop their plan, as the State had begun to curtail junior water uses in an over-appropriated Arkansas River Basin. The Paradise Acres Homeowners Association, CO61 Water Association, Huerfano County Road and Bridge Department, and Malachite Spring were also under notice from the State that they required augmentation, which protects a senior water right from usage, for their junior water uses. When the District first investigated, the board was told that development would take roughly two years and $75,000. Eight and a half years later, in November 2016, the District’s Regional Augmentation Plan for the Huerfano River Basin was adjudicated in water court. Oddly enough, the State opposed the water court application for approximately a year and a half (?), with other opposing parties eventually stipulating out as well. The District was required to buy a ranch with water rights and to develop a recharge pond, which would allow water to soak into an underground aquifer and return it to the river.
While the court case was in progress, the District was required to have interim augmentation plans, or a substitute water supply plan. The substitute plan served the junior water users who needed augmentation water before the water case could be finalized, and it was renewed and accepted each year by the State.
One great difficulty which the District faced was the finding of a reservoir site to store its water in order to release the water at the proper time—depending on the use that it was augmenting. The reservoir had to be relatively close to Huerfano river and fairly high up in the watershed, and the District did not have the funding at that time to buy a site for a reservoir. Reportedly, board member Kent Mace did a great amount of work in contacting landowners and negotiating easements for this project. Eventually, a site was located near Red Wing and the District was ready to begin engineering before it was determined that the site did not have the right kind of soil to build the reservoir with economic success. An additional $200,000 would have been required to build the reservoir, so the District was forced to start over and find a different site. Eventually, the new site at Sheep Mountain Ranch was discovered; there, not only are the soils conducive to locating a reservoir, but the site also has enough gravel that the District was able to interest Huerfano County in removing the gravel to use it on Pass Creek Road. Phase 1 of construction on the Reservoir began on August 3, 2017.