Federal Historic Preservation Act can complicate water projects

Orchard Mesa circa 1911
Orchard Mesa circa 1911

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Miles of ditches throughout much of the Grand Valley north of the Colorado River will get a once-over in the coming months as the Grand Valley Drainage District surveys its network of drains and canals.

The cultural-resources survey was prompted by the experience the district had early this year when a contractor wanted to install a pipe across a drain more than 50 years old that was maintained by the district.

“This started in January,” said district Manager Kevin Williams. “We did not get the permit until July.”

It took that long for the district to obtain a permit under the federal Historic Preservation Act for the job from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Williams said.

With that experience in mind, the drainage district put together plans for the cultural-resource survey that officials hope to use to reach a programmatic agreement with the Corps of Engineers, Williams said.

Once that happens, the district can move more quickly on public or private projects affecting the district’s facilities, Williams said, rather than undertake expensive and lengthy examinations of individual proposals.

The study itself is to be financed by a $50,000 grant from the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District and it will be conducted by Dominguez Archaeological Research Group.

Dominguez also will work with the state Historic Preservation Office, which is to sign off on the study.

“We just tried to be a little proactive,” said Williams, who called the requirement that every proposed crossing of the drainage system be studied for its historical implications an example of “constant overreach” by regulatory agencies.

Officials hope to complete the survey in a year and then begin negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We have close to 200 miles of open drains that we’re trying to get inventoried,” Williams said.

The drainage district might be only the first Grand Valley agency to conduct such an inventory.

The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District also has some 200 miles of drains and ditches built about the same time the drainage district’s network was constructed, Williams said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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