Aurora, southeastern water district clash over water storage issues

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) The city of Aurora and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District are in a dispute over whether a federal agency can allow the Denver suburb to store water in Lake Pueblo.

The district says the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is barred from leasing storage space to Aurora because the city is not part of the nine-county district paying for Pueblo Dam and other parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas River Water Project.

But Aurora contends that the yearly storage contracts are legal. The city says it stands to lose the use of more than 10 percent of its total water-rights holdings if the bureau halts the contracts.

Aurora water director Doug Kemper told district board members Thursday that the city needs to store at least 1,000 acre feet of water at Lake Pueblo to use any of the water rights it bought in the Rocky Ford Ditch, an irrigation system used by farmers along the Arkansas River.

Kemper said the city has invested more than $30 million developing the rights, including the revegetation of more than 4,000 acres of former farm land. If the bureau sides with the district, the city will lose the 8,250 acre-feet it collects from the water rights each year.

Aurora could take the matter to court or try to change the Rocky Ford water decree if the contracts are stopped, Kemper said, though he would rather try to reach a settlement.

After a closed-door meeting, board members agreed informally to continue opposing the bureau's ability to contract with Aurora.

''If there's a resolution on this matter, it'll have to come from other means,'' said Steve Arveschoug, the district's general manager.

Arveschoug said the district doesn't want Aurora to use the reservoir because the Fryingpan-Arkansas project was intended to bring water into the valley, not facilitate its export.

The district first opposed the contract with Aurora in 1986, shortly after the first Rocky Ford Ditch sale to Aurora.

Federal officials disagreed and leased storage space to Aurora on a yearly basis contingent on adequate space. Aurora pays a much higher rate that Arkansas Valley entities.

Both the district and Aurora filed legal papers with the bureau arguing their cases. Arveschoug said the bureau could take six months to two years to decide if the contracts can continue.

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