Ripples of pond management reach water conservancy district

The confluence of Grape Creek and the Arkansas River near Cañon City (photo by Jeffrey Beall).

State water officials for the Arkansas River Basin raised eyebrows in 2021 when they began applying state water law to ponds. The effects of the new pond-management plan have now rippled into the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

At its Thursday, Jan. 13, meeting, the Conservancy District board of directors approved an agreement with Paul Wenke that will allow him to avoid draining his spring-fed pond near Grape Creek in Custer County.

The pond-management plan was implemented by the Division of Water Resources Division 2 Engineer’s Office – which manages water rights in the Arkansas Basin – after identifying more than 10,000 Arkansas Basin ponds with no legal right to store water.

The ponds represent an illegal use of water because (1) the right for them to store water has not been adjudicated in Div. 2 Water Court and (2) storing water increases evaporation, which robs water from legal water-rights owners downstream.

District General Manager Terry Scanga said the agreement provides the District with “roughly 5 acre-feet” of water storage that will allow the District to provide “permanent augmentation” on a key segment of Grape Creek near Westcliffe.

Engineer Chris Manera with Colorado River Engineers said that the exact volume of the pond has not yet been determined but that it could be as much as 8 acre-feet.

Scanga said Wenke has paid the District a $5,000 application fee and will pay $660 per acre-foot of water stored per year under the agreement. The District will pay an estimated $15,000-20,000 to cover fees, install measuring devices and modify the outlet structure to allow for the pond’s water level to be raised and lowered as needed.

Scanga said Wenke’s only other alternatives were to drain the pond or “pay a lot of money for augmentation (water).”

Board members concurred that the agreement benefits both parties, approving it unanimously.

Photo link

Joe Stone