Nucla, Naturita need water storage for area’s future growth, official says

As Montrose County continues to pursue the water it believes it will need to sustain commercial and residential growth on the West End, county Public Works Director Brian Wilson wants to set the record straight about the project and its goals for the next 50 years.

Last December, the county applied to capture 6,400 acre-feet of water annually from the San Miguel River and store 25,600 acre-feet to offset potential drought conditions.

The Daily Sentinel previously reported that Montrose County filed multiple water applications and planned to construct several storage reservoirs in anticipation of a uranium-mining resurrection bringing thousands of miners to the West End.

Wilson corrected that information, saying the county is securing water demands for the towns of Nucla and Naturita for commercial, residential and industrial uses based on population estimates up until the year 2060.

Wilson said the project still is in initial planning as the county continues to pursue the water rights, which are being contested in court.  A multiple-day trial on the issue is set to begin Oct. 29, 2012, and could significantly impact the future of West End development.

Wilson said the county entered into an intergovernmental agreement with Nucla, Naturita and Mustang Water, the town’s water provider, last year to file the applications that would satisfy the estimated amount of water potentially needed for 50 years of projected growth.

Wilson said the county was forced to file the applications after negotiations with the Colorado Water Conservation Board fell through last year. He said the conservation board announced it would file on the remaining unappropriated water in the river, forcing the county to become reactionary to protect its water resources.

“We’re reacting to what the state of Colorado is doing relative to an instream flow. So, it’s a protective move to the citizens of Montrose County, not an aggressive move,” Wilson said.

Had the county not filed before the conservation board did, there would be little the county could do to secure any water in the river, Wilson said.

“CWCB recognized this and said, ‘Montrose County, you and the other water users need to file ahead of us,’ because they recognized the size of their water right,” Wilson said.

For the remainder of this year and next, county-hired geologists, archeologists and plant specialists along with surveyors and engineers are beginning to research and explore potential sites to store the 25,600 acre-feet of water. Wilson said there are plans to increase the size of the Nucla town reservoir to increase capacity.

In court documents, several landowners say the county’s plans are invasive and could influence their property rights.

Wilson said concrete plans are years away, and any discussion on eminent domain is “absolutely the last option.”

“We have not even begun to determine where the appropriate site is,” Wilson said. “Private-property rights are held in high regards in all cases. We recognize that.”


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