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The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) made short work of their Tuesday, April 11 regular meeting schedule. After a short discussion, they decided to withdraw their objections to the Weber Ditch redirection, in an area just south of Coyote Canyon.

“I met with Mark and the applicant and they are combining two diversion points, adding the smaller to the larger,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “It isn’t going through a siphon, (which would have been a problem because it’s not being cleaned out) but onto a box culvert … it seems like this is not a problem. The capacity of the culvert is really big, and it doesn’t receive extra flow from Cottonwood Creek. My recommendation is that we withdraw the objection.”

The Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners, for 2023. Left to right, Chair Keith Baker, P.T. Wood and Greg Felt. Photo by Jan Wondra.

“We don’t want to block beneficial use of water,” agreed County Attorney Daniel Tom. “It isn’t going to impact county infrastructure. Basically, we initially objected so we could understand the impacts and it’s not going to impact the county.

“There are 12 acres of dry pasture that is theoretically being put back into use from this. That’s a good thing,” added Felt, who made the motion to direct legal to withdraw from the case. It passed unanimously.

Convened as the Board of Health, they reaffirmed their decision via Resolution 2023 – o1 to deny a variance for a water cistern on the site for a new home construction in the Lost Creek Canyon subdivision.

“We don’t want to keep people from building on their property, but you have to have water,” said Commissioner P.T. Wood, who made the motion to deny the cistern.

The BoCC discussed some upcoming bills before the Colorado legislature in the current legislative session.

Felt raised a stream restoration bill that he called “a challenging one; increasing surface area increases evaporation and sometimes transpiration. These depletions are really minor for some areas, but – if you’re a water right holder sitting on the bubble, on some incremental way you could be injured by this. The state… the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – is the proponent of this bill. They are saying the legislature should exempt these projects as defined in the bill from water rights “a rebuttable presumption of injury” – so you have to defend yourself.”

He commented that there are a lot of people right now in the water rights business. “It depends on which basin you’re in – the Arkansas might be the tightest… the wording basically exempts the Arkansas River from this bill. Any new depletions of groundwater or surface water after 1949 aren’t allowed by the compact. You can do it, but you have to provide augmentation. So if a stream restoration is implemented here, they will need to augment the water.

He added that the Rio Grande basin is going to run into a similar situation, and probably so will the South Platte.  “I feel like this bill is causing a lot of conflict — that one clause in there covers a lot …  The end result over the years will be no real change in our basin. .. I’m supportive of it…

If the bill passes, there will be a lot of discussion ahead regarding senior water rights and junior water rights and how to facilitate those rights.

“It’s a good example of how a great idea always has some negative outcomes that typically aren’t contemplated,” said Wood..

“So if asked, are we going to support this legislation?” asked Commissioner Keith Baker.

All three commissioners nodded in support.

But all three also expressed major reservations about SB 213, which would take much of the land use zoning authority away from local governments — both municipal and county — and hand it to a state-level agency.

“The result might be more population and not more affordable housing,” said Wood. “We’re driving around Colorado on a road system made for three to four million people and there are six million people and we don’t have the water for this – a lot of that water is going to come out of our streams. They haven’t contemplated the effects on the schools, EMS, roads, local police.”

“This idea that we can grow our way out of our problems – it is inconceivable that that is true,” said Felt. “Growth is what got us into this situation. I totally agree, the local analysis is far preferable – this could change the role of county commissioners!!!

“The county’s are generally exempt from a lot of the provisions, but this is the bellwether – eventually it would be applied to counties,” said Baker.

“Even if it isn’t – it artificially forces an increase in population without solving the housing problem”, said Wood. “Every single time you drive to Denver you feel the effects of that change – every time you go fishing you feel the effects of that change.”

“I don’t want us to be penalized and have something forced on us, and we’ve been making progress here, and to have this get forced on us isn’t good,” said Baker.

The three commissioners unanimously agreed that the county’s position will be to oppose the legislation.

“This is a send-a-message kind of moment,” said Felt.

HB 2023 – 1255 would preclude local governments from putting any kind of moratorium on local housing growth. It would preempt local regulations limiting the number of building permits issued for development.

The commissioners discussed it at length, noting that the county is in the midst of a land use code (LUC) rewrite and that the pauses that have been taken were taken to put a better legal framework in place.

“If this is signed into law… without a real reason for that other than we need more growth for growth’s sake, is Disneyland thinking,” said Wood. “That idea that if we build all this housing that is going to solve our housing crisis … it takes away discretion from the counties on decisions related to housing. It could impact how the county works.”

“The fatal flaw of this is that the underlying assumption that the only reason to have a moratorium is to prevent growth … it’s all anti-growth language – but there are many reasons to impose moratoriums,” said Baker.

Felt raised the looming issue of the sewer dispute between Poncha Springs and Salida. If the sewer system isn’t expanded, there won’t be any capacity for new development.

“This is a statute that has been crafted to address some issues, and this was written for specific bad players, and not addressing how the rest of the state and small counties do business,” said Felt.

All three commissioners said they opposed it, with Baker saying, “I firmly oppose.”

The current legislative session ends May 8, 2023.