From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A plan to allow water to pass through Cucharas Reservoir until a new dam is built has been approved in a settlement of a legal case that has been drawn out for more than a year.
Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. filed an objection last August to a February 2015 state order to remove the dam, located 12 miles northeast of Walsenburg, claiming it still intends to build a new dam downstream. The Colorado Supreme Court returned the case to Division 2 water court, where a settlement was approved last month by Water Judge Larry Schwartz in lieu of a trial.
“The state and division engineers were very helpful in developing a common-sense plan for rebuilding the Cucharas dam,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, said in a press release this week. “The plan will insure the public’s safety and increase the water efficiency inside the entire Huerfano River basin.”
Two Rivers is required in the next six months to remove the rock fill embankment of the entire length of the dam. It also must cut a channel allowing 150 cubic feet per second to pass through the reservoir and dam on the Cucharas River in Huerfano County. The Cucharas River merges with the Huerfano River before it empties into the Arkansas River.
Those remedies are more stringent than McKowen’s claim last year that the dam was safe because its crest had been removed and it was storing no water because the gates were locked open.
McKowen plans to build a new dam downstream that would allow storage at the site, which has been under restriction by the state since the old dam began leaking in 1987.
In the settlement discussions, McKowen talked with the state about using Two Rivers’ assets in the Huerfano River basin to address other water issues in the basin. Two Rivers owns all of the Orlando Reservoir in Huerfano County and canal system and 95 percent of the Huerfano- Cucharas Irrigation Co., which includes Cucharas Reservoir and farmland in Pueblo County.
While the settlement resolved issues with the state, there are still legal issues between Two Rivers and other water users in the Huerfano River basin.
As part of the settlement, Two Rivers would pay Huerfano County $100,000 if it fails to comply with the consent decree. The state has reserved the authority to evaluate compliance and to take further action, if necessary.