From The Mountain Mail (Terry Scanga):
In 1979 the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was formed. Since that time innumerable benefits have been provided to the citizens of the district.
The primary goal of the district is protection of water rights within the Upper Arkansas. Continuous monitoring and involvement in legislative measures that impact water rights, involvement in water court cases that have the potential to negatively impact Upper Basin water rights and operating umbrella augmentation plans that prevent injury to water rights by making weekly water replacements to affected rivers and streams by out-of-priority uses are the major areas of work.
Other areas include conducting water studies such as ground water monitoring, water balance studies with the U.S. Geologic Survey, identification of and development of alluvial water storage, watershed health activities such as spearheading the Monarch Pass Steep Slope Timber Harvesting Project and water education programs. The benefits of these programs are not always recognized by citizens of the district.
Water resource development is essential to an effective water right protection program. The most obvious and direct benefit of this is the district’s umbrella augmentation plan program. Augmentation is a little understood water resource concept that was developed in 1969 when Colorado fully recognized in legislation the connection between tributary ground water and surface water. With this recognition all ground water production was brought under and regulated by the prior appropriation system.
Basically, this meant that the right to extract ground water for use would be governed by the date of first use. In an arid country such as Colorado, and in particular eastern Colorado, there is never enough water to satisfy all legal claims. Thus, priority of use is controlled by the established date of first use or “First in Time Is First in Right.” This legislation prevented most well use except when a “fully consumable” water source was used to replace the amount of water used up by the well. In other words, the well use would have to be augmented with a court-decreed “Plan of Augmentation.”
The full impact of this was not completely felt until the decision of the Kansas-Colorado Compact lawsuit and the adoption by Colorado in 1995 of the “Amended Rules and Regulation on Tributary Ground Water Use in the Arkansas Basin.”
Fortuitously, the district had filed in 1992 and obtained an umbrella augmentation plan in 1994. The benefits have been enormous for citizens within district boundaries of its decreed augmentation areas needing augmentation to use their wells, surface diversion or ponds.
The value of being able to enroll into the district’s augmentation plan and continue to use one’s well is best quantified by cost savings. Typical residential well augmentation requires a source of fully consumable water, storage, an engineering plan and a water court decree. The typical current cost for such a plan ranges from a low of $80,000 to $150,000 per residence. The cost per residence with the district’s plan is less than $4,500, a savings per residence of $75,000 to more than $145,000.
Presently the district provides augmentation to over 2,000 wells. The vast majority of these are for residential use. This savings expressed in dollars would represent a cost savings to district citizens of as much as $290 million.
The additional and as important benefit is to rivers and streams in the district. Annually more than 700-acre feet of water is released to our streams and available to support water rights and protect them from injury.
Further benefits are the water infrastructure that is maintained and constructed that supports recreation and the environment. Many of the area lakes and reservoirs are filled with district owned and controlled water rights, such as O’Haver Lake.
The studies and watershed health projects the district has undertaken in its 35 years of existence provide a wealth of knowledge and data for present and future understanding of our water resource and a roadmap to future water development.
Ralph “Terry” Scanga is general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.