The piles of dirt tend to rise daily, as the heavy construction continues to dredge into the earth about five miles east of Kersey.
The massive dirt-moving operation, which involves a couple of handfuls of heavy construction equipment, has been dredging ground for three months to dig the 70 Ranch Reservoir, a planned 6,000 acre-foot reservoir just north of U.S. 34 and west of Weld County Road 69, about 15 miles east of Greeley.
The $10 million project will be used to help replenish water that farmers pump from the fields in Weld County, and supply water to municipalities east and south of Denver.
The project is headed by Bob Lembke, president of United Water and Sanitation District, which supplies water to the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District and Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority. The project also is under the auspices of the Sand Hills Metropolitan District, which is the subject of a lawsuit by two oil and gas companies, citing their taxes were used incorrectly through the district.
“Upon completion, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 acre-feet of storage, and it will be used to store water rights in that section of the Platte River and serve as location for storage for well augmentation plans,” Lembke said.
The reservoir may be a bit a source of contention for some involved in Weld agriculture, as it is seen as yet another way to divert water from the county to municipal users. The concern of outside municipalities buying up water rights on Weld farms has been ongoing for years.
Lembke said the reservoir will be used chiefly for Weld uses, though there will be storage for some water rights outside of Weld.
“Some are in Adams County, some are Weld, some go to Araphoe County. Some will benefit 70 Ranch directly to get land there irrigated because we have a fair amount of farmland that needs water,” Lembke said.
One potential user could be Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which serves Adams, Weld and Morgan counties. Lembke has been in discussions with district leaders, who have not yet committed to using the reservoir for its storage purposes. Three years ago, voters in the water conservancy district approved spending $60 million to secure water storage.
Executive Director Randy Ray has about half of that today to find and develop additional water supplies.
“This could be one of those projects,” Ray said. “We’re evaluating additional gravel pit storage projects. We have a lot of options to look at and 70 Ranch could be one of those.”
Any involvement in the project would have to be vetted through the district’s board of directors, which is made up of area farmers.
Ray said the reservoir’s location is ideal, and its size also is appealing.
“The location for 70 Ranch reservoir is very good,” Ray said. “It’s downstream of where all tributaries come into the Platte. A lot of people call it the fat part of the river because you have the St. Vrain, Thompson and Cache la Poudre, all entered in the river, and typically, on a wet or average year, there’s enough flow on the river there that junior water rights can be diverted and filled.
“So the location, we like, it’s a good place,” Ray said. “We’ve been looking for a site in that area since the bond passed.”
The perception problem, however, may prove difficult.
“There is this perception that a lot people do not like United Water’s and other entities’, like Castle Rock, Aurora, Thornton, they don’t like these municipalities moving water from Weld County,” Ray said.
“It could be a perception thing that Central Water Conservancy District is the hometown (agency) partnering with an entity that’s moving water out of the district.”
The district represents about 1,000 wells on about 600 family farms, a large percentage of which are in Weld County.
Ray said if his board sees benefits for its membership to store water in the 70 Ranch Reservoir, the perception may be a non-issue.
“Myself and the board, provided we understand the terms and conditions and take a good look and try to determine what future brings from a relationship with other water users in a joint water storage, and long as its not injurious to members, and benefits outweigh the negatives, they generally think we should keep partnering with these outfits,” Ray said.
Partnering on water storage projects like this are typically advantageous, Ray said.
“The more you can partner with other water users and stretch costs and increase supplies, the better off you’re going to be,” he added. “With any partnership you get into, you never know who your partner’s going to be in the future.”
Ray said the chief concern is keeping costs down.
“We want to get into projects that the long-term operation and maintenance costs are affordable for our constituents,” he said. “It wouldn’t be smart to buy into a cheap facility and your costs are three times what another facility would be.”
The reservoir should be competed in 2016-17.