In March, The Watch reported on Montrose County’s to secure water rights from the San Miguel River in parts of Montrose and San Miguel counties to “secure the future of the West End.”
That effort began In 2010, when, in a rush to beat a deadline set by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Montrose County and the towns of Nucla and Naturita filed for extensive water rights from the upstream headwaters of Fall Creek (west of Telluride) all the way to the Town of Nucla, on the Lower San Miguel River.
The series of applications, filed with the water court in Colorado’s Water Division No. 4, sought approximately 6,400 acre-feet of water per year to be stored in half-a-dozen new reservoirs and reservoir enhancements. The reservoirs, at least one of which would have been in San Miguel County, could have held approximately 25,000 acre feet, roughly the size of Silver Jack Reservoir, east of Montrose.
The reason for the mammoth undertaking, Montrose County Engineer Brian Wilson said in March, was to “secure the future of the West End.”
“We have identified enough water from the San Miguel Basin to provide for West End population and industrial growth over the next 60 years,” he added.
“It’s a big water grab,” said Jenny Russell, an attorney for Sheep Mountain Alliance, one of over thirty objectors to the filings. Other objectors were the Town of Telluride, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, San Miguel County and dozens of private individuals and ditch companies whose water and/or land and livelihood could be affected.
In June, Montrose County lost a court case, when District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick agreed that the case involving water rights on the Johnson Ditch was speculative. That case was independent of the other larger water rights litigation.
Prior to a trial scheduled for October, an agreement between Montrose County and its lengthy list of objectors was reached in August, drastically reducing the amount of water the county sought to claim from the San Miguel River and its tributaries.
Under the settlement, Montrose County agreed to drop claims on the proposed Marie Scott Reservoir and other facilities proposed for construction in San Miguel County, agreeing as well to not assist others in developing those facilities. Within six years, Montrose County must select one or two of the four remaining proposed reservoirs to develop, and then abandon the others.
The agreement stipulates that Montrose County must agree to volumetric limitations on the use of the water, which will limit the draft of the water rights on the stream system. Finally, the agreement states Montrose County must abandon or forfeit reservoirs that are not constructed within certain periods of time, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop, over specified periods of time.
From the Town of Telluride’s perspective, the announcement of agreement was considered a victory. “I can also tell you it’s been a collective effort of about 12 parties that came together, all opposed to the water filing,” Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger said. “We worked well together to find a reasonable compromise.”
“I think the objectors did a great job in whittling this down,” Russell said. “I think it’s a very good agreement, given that it’s a bad water rights application.”