Independence water amendment bid faces pushback

Hundreds file statements of opposition to proposal

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 2/10/20

More than 365 parties in Elbert County have filed statements of opposition with the Colorado Water Court, in District 1, against a request by Independence developers to amend the uses for 75 …

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Independence water amendment bid faces pushback

Hundreds file statements of opposition to proposal

Posted

More than 365 parties in Elbert County have filed statements of opposition with the Colorado Water Court, in District 1, against a request by Independence developers to amend the uses for 75 acre-feet of water per year to include domestic, municipal, industrial, commercial, stock watering, fire protection and exchange and augmentation purposes, both on and off the subject property. Original decreed uses are for in-house and irrigation on the subject property.

A public notice published in the Elbert County News Dec. 19 raised concerns from citizens that developers would be allowed to take water off the property and sell it, and the increased uses would affect the water in their wells, which draw from the Upper Dawson aquifer.

Elbert County citizens rallied and held public meetings to share information about how to address the concerns, with some expressing mistrust of county commissioners and Craft Companies, the developers of Independence. Concerned residents had until Jan. 31 to file a statement of opposition with the water court, if they felt the change would affect their wells. More than 365 did so, with some residents combining their statements and hiring an attorney, and others filing individually.

“I’ve entered about 365 parties so far, and I’m not done,” said water court clerk Connie Coppes on Feb. 3.

Jill Duvall, who helped organize the public meetings, said residents have filed out of a need for self-preservation, since the majority of residents in Elbert County rely on well water.

“More than 90 percent of us out here are on wells. If they run dry we’re done,” said Duvall. “I think the main concern for all of us is them taking the water off the property. And we would like to see them take the water from the lower aquifers for construction.”

The water in question comes from five bedrock aquifers in the Denver Basin aquifer system, with Upper and Lower Dawson being in Elbert County. Other aquifers include Denver, Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox Hills, all of which have their eastern extent in Elbert County.

Susan Schick, a member of Independence Water Warriors, agreed that the potential to take water off site is a big concern, but also said many don’t trust county commissioners to stop it from happening if the time comes.

“Primarily we don’t want the water to go off site,” said Schick. “The county commissioners have confirmed that a public hearing would be needed before that could happen, but we don’t trust that they would respect the wishes of the public if that time came. I don’t think our commissioners are planning for those of us who are already out here.”

Commissioner Chris Richardson has maintained that no water will ever leave the county.

“Bottom line is that there is to be no transfer of water out of the county, and any use/sale off the development but within the county can only be approved in a public hearing with the BOCC,” Richardson stated in a previous interview.

With so many statements of opposition filed with the water court, it could be quite a while before Craft’s request for a water amendment could be approved, or denied.

“The water court has to go through all the protests, which will take a while,” said Duvall. “Then they have to schedule a hearing with each party, which are most commonly done through a phone conference. The water court referee will attempt to mediate between what the protester wants and what Craft wants. If the referee can’t come up with a solution that works for all parties, then it will go before the water court.”

Craft representatives have expressed a willingness to speak with concerned citizens, both during public meetings and in previous Elbert County News stories. They issued this statement regarding the filing of statements of opposition.

“We have repeatedly offered to answer any questions regarding the Upper Dawson amendment by listing our outreach representative’s contact information (Peter Wall) on social media and in two local community articles (Elbert County News and Ranchland News). To date, our representative has not received a single inquiry from those opposing this amendment. As we’ve stated, we used standard language in the Upper Dawson amendment — language that is well within our rights. In fact, the language we used is the same language that has also been used in many of our opposers’ decrees.

“It is hypocritical that our rights are being challenged when those who are opposing the amendment have the same rights written into their decrees. It is also unfortunate that they have not responded to our multiple offers to discuss the amendment with our outreach representative. We have tried to address this issue neighbor to neighbor. Instead, our opposers have chosen to follow a vocal minority that continues to spread misinformation without any effort to understand the facts or go directly to the source.”

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