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New county subdivisions may need guaranteed water supply
8/17/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
People wanting to develop their rural land in La Plata County might soon have to meet higher standards to prove they have adequate water.
The county commissioners discussed the proposed new standards on Aug. 7. To give more time for people to learn about the proposal, they scheduled a work session on Aug. 30 from 9 to 10 a.m., and put it on their Sept. 4 agenda for a possible decision.
The new standards were developed by a volunteer water advisory task force. Members Fred Kroeger, Brian Kimmel, Peter Butler and Tom Brosse were at the Aug. 7 commissioners meeting.
Kimmel said the effort started during the drought, when the county was reviewing a project where water was a main concern. When the state Division of Water Resources says a developer has water, they are referring to water rights, ability to get a well permit, he said. Getting a well permit is no guarantee of actually getting water.
“When the commissioners sign off on a plat, they are saying to the best of their knowledge there’s adequate water,” Kimmel said.
Brosse said the new standards are “really covering your collective fanny.”
Butler said the task force had mixed opinions about allowing any subdivisions based on hauled water. “Some members wanted to allow that for small land splits where you probably can’t get a well, that without water hauling the split can’t happen,” he said. “The other argument was that’s not a viable long-term supply.”
No commercial hauler will commit to long-term supply contracts for a subdivision, although there’s nothing in the new standards that would prevent that, he said.
“I don’t see that as a long-term viable answer,” County Commissioner Wally White said.
Kimmel stressed, “We aren’t saying you can’t haul water to an existing legal lot. We’re talking about new subdivisions.”
Butler said there is no cheap and easy way to document adequate and sustainable groundwater supply. It needs an expensive study. “Large developments do those. A lot of small projects are getting through the process without showing long-term supply. We cut out an exemption for smaller development. We couldn’t define smaller development,” the number of lots where the higher standards kick in.
“We thought there should be a plat note required that at the time the subdivision was approved, the commissioners thought there was adequate water,” Butler said.
Brosse noted that in many places groundwater depends on irrigation recharge. But as more irrigated land is developed, that recharge goes away. The result will be more wells going dry.
“We ask you to support rural water systems,” Brosse said. “I really think it’s important that the county be in the (water) business. Water should be managed on a macro basis so if it goes down in one place, it can come from another place.”
As for the up front cost, he asked, “Would you rather put $10,000 in and know the answer, or find out after you put in a $200,000 house?”
County planner Brett Sherman said, “Our intent isn’t to restrict cisterns. They are a back-up for low producing wells.” But as a place to put hauled water, “They don’t meet the dependability part of state statute,” he said.
As cisterns and hauling increase, the sources for haulers could be maxxed out, Sherman said. The Marvel spring, a source for Dryside residents, is already overloaded. “At what point do (bulk water stations in) Ignacio, Durango and Bayfield reach that point?” he asked.
Kimmel said that eventually the sources’ water rights could be an issue.
Kroeger, who has been involved with the Animas/ La Plata project forever, said 700 acre feet from that is designated for a rural water system on the Dryside. “We are struggling to make that work. We have no money,” he said.
Proponents of a rural water district serving southeast La Plata County have revived their efforts to form the district (see accompanying story).