2 sites in Montrose County may be approved for future reservoirs
The possibility of economic development in the West End of Montrose County has officials scrambling to find ways to store water in the arid region.
The effort, however, is running into opposition from an environmental organization that also is leading the opposition to a proposed uranium and vanadium mill near Naturita.
The county also is dealing with requests by the Colorado Water Conservation Board for instream flows that would allow the county to capture only spring runoff for storage, or about 3,200 acre-feet.
Montrose County and several objectors are getting close to a settlement with objectors to its plans, which include the study of six potential reservoir sites.
Those sites are to be winnowed to two under the agreement, said Brian Wilson, Montrose County director of public works.
Some of the rights at issue predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact, making them all the more critical in a drought, Wilson said.
“We would like to save the water for the state and use it against a potential downstream compact call,” Wilson said.
In the meantime, Montrose County also is looking for storage to accommodate expected growth tied to construction of the uranium mill, more mining and other forms of development, Wilson said.
There’s also a value to tourism, Wilson said.
“Look what Moab did with a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of marketing,” Wilson said, referring to the Utah community that is internationally recognized as a mountain-biking mecca.
Other forms of tourism and the development of alternative energy sources, such as a solar array in the Paradox Valley, also stand to contribute to growth in the region, he said.
One of the objectors, the Sheep Mountain Alliance, was part of the settlement, but last month withdrew, saying it wanted to preserve its right to sue.
The Sheep Mountain Alliance dismissed the county’s filing for water rights as “purely speculative,” Executive Director Hilary White said.
The amount of water the county is claiming would provide enough water for about 26,000 people. But the West End remains a region of declining population that the Census estimates now at fewer than 2,000, the alliance said.
Except for the enlargement of the existing Nucla Reservoir to serve water needs for that community, “we intend to have the balance of the rights dismissed in the future as we do not believe Montrose County will have the ability or the need to develop these reservoirs,” White said.