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Cucharas Collaborative finding the storage

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG — The second meeting between stakeholders and engineering water consultants focused on the issue of location, age, and condition of storage along the Cucharas River drainage basin.

Originally scheduled for last Friday, the meeting was called due to the snowstorms that blanked the area with a few inches up to several feet of snow. It was rescheduled for Monday, May 2, at the Huerfano County Ambulance Building on Main Street in downtown Walsenburg.

Rick Parsons of Parsons Water Consulting and consultant and water engineer Steve Smith gave a power point presentation, then fielded questions and comments from the crowd of over 60 participants.

After showing a presentation that indicated 18 storage structures, some that had been built in the late 1800s, comments from several participants indicated the consultants were missing many structures in the Cucharas basin area.

Storage development in the Cucharas basin steadily increased from the 1870s through the 1940s. Some 70 dams were constructed for the impoundment of approximately 47,000 acre-feet. For all practical purposes, storage development stopped about 65 years ago. Subsequently, with a dramatic economic downturn in the county, there has been little money available or spent to maintain storage facilities. As a result, over 33,500 a.f. of storage (71%) has been abandoned or is now subject to State Engineer restriction. The result: 13,300 a.f. of currently viable storage remains, which is considered by collaborative members to be inadequate.

Some of the structures themselves are in good shape, according to Water Commissioner Doug Brgoch. “For example, there’s the Castle Rock storage. It is still in good shape and the water storage right has been abandoned. The former right holder went to water court several years ago and told the judge he didn’t want the water right anymore. Tell that to a judge and the judge won’t even argue. The rights holder said that the grass at the bottom of the pond was worth more to him than the water.” The Castle Rock storage pond is in the western area of Huerfano County. It is just one of many storage ponds that still have to be found, or inventoried and inspected.

According to Brgoch, there are around 50, 40 to 50 acre foot reservoirs in the Cucharas Basin that have been abandoned and still need to be looked at.

On the list of reservoirs that have been inventoried are the 18 jurisdictional dams with storage capacity of 50 acre feet or more. Of those 18, about 12 that have been inspected by the state’s Dam Safety Engineer.

Repairs to or replacement of storage capacity along the Cucharas River and the streams that feed it will be expensive. Estimates run from $750 per acre-foot to $7,500 per acre-foot of storage built or repaired.

The project is a long way from being finished. In order for the engineers to be able to get the data needed for an accurate estimate of the costs, they will need to find out what storage water rights holders have and the condition they’re in. This means they will have to access the areas the storage is located in so they can gather on-site data. They will also need cooperation from the municipalities and the water authorities.

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