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The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District recently approved an augmentation agreement with Lakeside Estates Preserve Homeowners Association near Buena Vista.

Without the augmentation agreement, the historic Franklin Reservoir, better known as Ice Lake, would have to be drained.

The historic lake was once used to supply the ice needed to ship Buena Vista’s famous lettuce crops to market via railroad, an indication of the seniority of the lake’s appropriation date – i.e., the date at which the lake’s water was put to beneficial use.

But while the man-made lake has been a Buena Vista icon since the late 1800s, the lake’s water rights weren’t adjudicated in Water Court until 1942.

With such a recent or “junior” Water Court decree, the owners of the lake – currently the HOA – have seldom had a legal right to retain water in the lake.

Compounding the problem, the 30-acre lake has been losing water, literally into thin air, through evaporation.

Colorado water law requires those evaporative water losses to be replaced so that owners of senior water rights are not legally injured by the loss of that water.

The Division 2 Engineer’s Office, which administers water rights in the Arkansas River Basin, determined Ice Lake evaporative losses to be 72.6 acre-feet of water per year.

Through the new augmentation agreement, the Upper Ark conservancy district will replace those losses and receive a combination of water (18-25 acre-feet per year), money and drought-year water storage in Ice Lake.

When Upper Ark district board members questioned the reliability of HOAs in honoring legal contracts, Kendall Burgemeister, conservancy district legal counsel, said, “If they don’t pay, we don’t augment, and the lake gets drained.”

Jord Gertson, conservancy district hydrologist, reported that the district released 1.35 acre-feet of water to replace evaporation from Ice Lake for the month of December (under a temporary agreement with the HOA).