Simmering #water dispute: Ute Water Conservancy District’s Plateau Valley land actions questioned — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Vega State Park, with a view of Vega Reservoir in early spring, still partially frozen. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57567250

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A water dispute is simmer ing in the Plateau Valley over what a Mesa-area rancher says looks like a buy-and-dry scheme by a domestic utility.

James Segrest’s ire isn’t directed to the typical suspects of such concerns, such as some behemoth water utility serving the Front Range or a major municipality in some downstream state. Rather, he’s upset with the Ute Water Conservancy District, which serves some 85,000 domestic customers right here in the Grand Valley.

Segrest is putting his concerns on full display on a sign he’s posted along Colorado Highway 65, criticizing the utility and the Collbran Conservancy District, which he says is helping Ute Water stockpile Plateau Valley ranch water that it someday may convert to municipal use.

Both the district’s board chairman, Carlyle Currier, and Ute Water are defending the district’s and utility’s respective actions, and Segrest’s highly public way of expressing his view also is disconcerting to Currier…

Segrest said he doesn’t like calling people out and spent a lot of time thinking about putting the sign up before doing so. But he thinks Currier would see things differently if he was on Segrest’s side of the issue. He thinks what Ute Water has done with about a 120-acre parcel west of Mesa is just a sign of what may come, given its large ownership of ranchland in the valley and mission of providing water to thousands of domestic customers, not running farms and ranches…

“… They let 120 acres of very good alfalfa pasture just up and die and it turned into a prairie-dog moonscape now. They haven’t watered it in four years since they got it,” Segrest said.

DISTRICT APPROVED CHANGE

Segrest’s anger with the Collbran Conservancy District arises from the district’s recent approval of Ute Water’s transfer of Vega Reservoir water rights permanently from that acreage.

Currier said all Ute Water was doing is moving water rights from one property it owns to other Ute Water property within the district, property where the water could be used more efficiently…

“It isn’t drying up farm land. It’s being wise about how to manage that water,” Currier said.

He said the approval by the district was consistent with its approval of many such transfers in the past, following a process based on established rules.

By federal law, Vega Reservoir water, which was made available by a federal project, can only be used for irrigation within the conservancy district. District regulations allow for the permanent transfer of water within the district from one parcel to another when both have the same owner and the board approves it.

Greg Williams, assistant manager of Ute Water, said that as an agricultural property owner, the utility has to evaluate which of its properties can most benefit from available water, and consider moving the water to the most effective, efficient and productive properties…

The 120 acres the water was transferred from isn’t the best property, which is part of the reason Ute Water wasn’t putting water on it, he said. It’s rocky, riddled with prairie dogs and was unfenced until recently, he said.

“Basically we were feeding everybody else’s cattle,” he said, referring to the fact that it’s up to landowners to fence their property if they want to keep others’ livestock out.

Steve Thornberg, president of the No. 6 Ditch Co., which delivered water to the 120 acres in question, objected to the water transfer. He said he’s worried about preserving the valley, having seen fields dry up…

IMPACTS TO DITCH MEMBERS

The transfer of the water impacts agricultural operators along that 7-mile ditch, including Segrest and Thornberg. The Ute Water property is at the end of the ditch, and delivering the Vega Water allotment to the property benefited others along the ditch because more water running through the ditch reduces loss of water to things like evaporation, soil absorption and thirsty tree roots.

Segrest said that with Ute Water’s Vega Reservoir annual allocation of up to 145 acre-feet of water permanently transferred from the acreage, others along the ditch will suffer from greater “shrink” of water volume in the ditch, reducing how much water is available to them.

Thornberg said more than 20 families are being injured by the transfer of the water. In terms of water rights the ditch in question is a low-priority ditch compared to others in the area, which get more water coming off the mountain as runoff, he said.

Ditch No. 6 doesn’t often get that water, especially in drought years.

“Maybe one out of three years we’ll get some runoff water, but we really depend on the Vega water to keep our ground green,” Thornberg said…

Although Ute Water contributed to making improvements on the ditch, from piping to removing vegetation growth, it’s a long ditch that experiences a water loss rate of 70% or more, meaning that if a landowner orders 1 cubic foot per second of water, less than 0.3 cfs may arrive, Williams said.

“That’s a horrendous amount of shrink,” and not an efficient use of water, Williams said.

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