Chaffee County and water district continue to contend

Brief by Central Staff

Water – August 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

The meetings probably didn’t do much good anyway, but the Chaffee County Commissioners and the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District are no longer conducting formal dialogs.

They have clashed before over recreational in-stream flows in the Arkansas River from Buena Vista to Salida — the county wanted a flow right, and the district opposed it. Last summer, the district entertained petitions so that it could expand to cover all of Frémont County (it currently has only the sparsely populated western portion).

Chaffee County Commissioners opposed that because they feared it would dilute county water resources — such as storage reservoirs — which were turned over to the district when it was formed in 1979 with the understanding that the water storage would be used for the benefit of Chaffee County residents.

The district court in Cañon City put the brakes on expansion last summer by finding the petitions inadequate.

Since it appeared that the petitioners were going to try again, the commissioners and the water board began meeting to see if they could work out their differences. At a December meeting, they discussed a compromise that would protect storage in South Arkansas reservoirs for Chaffee County, but the agreement never made it to a water board vote.

The boards have not met since then, and two scheduled meetings were canceled days before they were supposed to happen.

“I think there really wasn’t a lot to talk about,” water district manager Terry Scanga told the Salida Mountain Mail.

Tim Glenn of the county commissioners said, “I hear the district has taken a hard line on these reservoirs,” and “If that is their position,” then a meeting would be “a waste of time.”

The district’s effort to expand into eastern Frémont County continues despite the setback last year. Petitions have been circulating, and a court hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 10 to determine if they have enough valid signatures. They need 25 percent of the owners of irrigated land outside city limits, and 5 percent of those inside Cañon and Florence. If the petitions are adequate, then the expansion will go on the November ballot.

The expansion is supported by county commissioners and mayors in Frémont County, and why not? Their larger population will put them in control of the district, and they’ll have access to assets accumulated over the years by taxpayers in Chaffee and Custer counties.

Most of the energy behind the petitions seems to be coming from the Penrose area, where we have heard that developers are having trouble finding water — water they could presumably get from Upper Arkansas if all of Frémont County were in the district.

Now note that Penrose is basically a suburb of Colorado Springs, only 34 miles away. And then see if you can say, with a straight face, that adding Penrose to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District is a way to meet the District’s oft-stated goal of protecting our water resources from those cities along the Front Range.