Letter from DWCD to Montezuma County commissioners

Board of County Commissioners Montezuma County

Re: Water Quality Protections Provided by the Dolores River Valley Plan (DRVP)

Dear Commissioners:

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, DWCD, was established to bolster local water development that would support our community and continues these efforts today via several programs from upriver at Rico down to Towaoc and out to Dove Creek and all areas in between. The District’s primary facility for water supply remains the Reclamation McPhee dam and reservoir on the Dolores River to hold the spring runoff for use among these local communities. These efforts are intended to support local land use as guided by the Montezuma land use codes set by your selves as appropriate to our community. Past experience with water quality concerns below and above McPhee have kept DWCD following the current discussions about the Dolores River Valley Plan area and potential impacts to the community’s water supply for approximately 27,000 final customers in Montezuma and Dolores Counties.

DWCD has followed the public Planning and Zoning meetings and citizen comments. Though the public has voiced specific complaints about certain aspects of the DRVP, all sides have expressed continued support to remain vigilant in protecting our existing high quality water supplies from the Dolores River. These protections are currently provided by the DRVP by specific land development codes covering the Dolores River Valley. Though modifications or changes to the DRVP may be requested , we encourage you to keep these concerns in mind as you deliberate and not allow changes that would put the community water supply at risk.

The DRVP has protected our local water supply for over a decade by several specific codes. The first one was recognition that increased development by definition would gradually and inevitably introduce additional pollutants into the river and thereby affect our water quality. Yet, as the land is private property, no one believed halting all future development would be appropriate or desirable. Therefore the question was how to appropriately balance these issues. The DRVP process established several linchpin criteria to control development to mitigate impacts that would affect the water quality. These limits included one development per ten acres , restricted steep slope development, instigated use of engineered septic systems, required a 100 foot setback for almost every1hing from the river and directed gravel pits to individual permits through the High Impact Permit process for individual reviews. The transferrable development rights system tool was created to allow increased density greater than 1 per 10 acres in some areas with a corresponding decrease in an offsetting area within the DRVP area boundaries. They also were intended to allow existing ranches to receive their locked up land value without submitting to subdivision, ceasing operations and adding more development impacts. Public comments indicate this tool has not worked for all of the affected landowners. Other recommended protective actions such as existing septic inventories, inspections of older systems and post installation inspections of new systems were not adopted. Likewise, the one development per ten acres was not detailed as to size and other variables that might provide clarity or flexibility for area landowners. These specific codes protect the water supply from identified negative impacts to the local water supply.
Development remains extremely difficult to roll-back, therefore DWCD recommends caution moving forward lest any negative impacts be difficult or impossible to correct. DWCD would advise addressing specific public concerns without losing the protections afforded by the DRVP. Preventing the loss of our drinking water quality is far less expensive than improving poor water quality once lost.

The Commissioners have the heavy burden of balancing potentially competing interests of the private land owners versus this critical protection of the Dolores River public water supply quality. This remains a local concern and therefore is put to you, our local elected leaders as our public representatives versus dictates from distant un-elected regulatory agencies. Should clearly identified problems require changes to the current codes, alternate protection strategies would be advisable, such as more certainty concerning the performance of existing septic systems. As the Commissioners move forward to resolve the current public concerns, DWCD offers their assistance and support to Montezuma County’s process to maintain our Dolores River water quality as you address these issues.

Bruce Smart
President Dolores Water Conservancy District

From June 2014.