The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the San Juan Water Conservancy District have struck a deal with Trout Unlimited, bringing the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir one step closer to fruition.
The agreement, coming after an hours-long negotiation moderated by Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, effectively ends years of dispute between the districts and the environmental group.
There was a willingness, I think, and a desire for both parties to come together, Steve Hartvigsen, director of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, said Saturday.
Though the districts originally requested water rights for 35,000 acre-feet, the agreement gives them the necessary water rights to construct a reservoir no larger than 11,000 acre-feet.
In return, Trout Unlimited agreed to drop its opposition to the districts water rights request.
The next step in the process is to put the terms of the agreement in writing and, once the draft is agreed upon by all parties, it will go to the water division for approval by the division engineer before going to the district water court for final approval.
If constructed, the reservoir would be located about three miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, drawing water from the San Juan River.
This is a victory for the San Juan River, Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimiteds Colorado Water Project, said in a news release issued Friday. The original application could have been devastating to fish habitat and the river ecosystem, but now we have a settlement that balances the districts need for water with the health of the San Juan.
Trout Unlimited twice appealed the district courts decision to award water rights for the project on the grounds that the districts were being too speculative in their predictions of population growth. In both instances, the Colorado Supreme Court sided with the environmental group and denied the projects water rights.
As part of the deal, the water districts have agreed to draw no more than 11,000 acre-feet per year with a 10-year average of no more than 9,300 acre-feet per year. The districts also must maintain water levels in the San Juan equal to twice the flow required by the Colorado Water Conservancy Boards in-stream flow requirements.
In-stream flow water rights are water rights held by the water conservancy board, mandating minimum water levels in the states waterways to prevent environmental degradation.
During winter months, the in-stream flow requirement is 30 cubic feet per second rising to 50 cfs during the summer. Under the terms of the agreement, the water districts cannot draw water from the San Juan if it results in flows of less than 60 cubic feet per second in the winter or 100 cfs in the summer.
From my point of view, the amount of water they got is still more than they need, Peternell said Saturday.
The Dry Gulch Basin is large enough for a 35,000-acre-feet reservoir, though Hartvigsen said the actual size of the reservoir would reflect the districts needs at the time of construction. The original request for the 35,000-acre-feet water right was meant to secure the water necessary for very long-term growth, perhaps as long as 100 years into the future, he said.
Theres no question that it would be a long time before we would ever need that much water, Hartvigsen said. All we were looking for was maximizing the potential of the site for many years to come.
Despite the concessions made by the water districts and what Hartvigsen characterized as a misunderstanding over the actual size of the proposed reservoir, he was glad to have a deal in place.
I would say that both parties wanted to reach a settlement, he said. Obviously, we didnt get everything we wanted, and I would think reps from Trout Unlimited feel the same way.
Both Hartvigsen and Peternell acknowledged Whiteheads integral role in bringing the parties together and ultimately as moderator of the negotiations.
A big thanks to Sen. Whitehead, Hartvigsen said. Without him there, I cant say that we would have come to an agreement, not that we didnt want to.