Water Conservancy has its eyes on Jackson Gulch

Transfer of ownership can take years

The Mancos Water Conservancy District is looking into the process of taking ownership of the Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the canal and all the associated land from the Bureau of Reclamation.

The district's board members and the project superintendent met with a BOR representative on Wednesday to discuss the logistics of transferring the title.

"It may be slow and hard and cumbersome," said James Hess, BOR's title transfer coordinator. He said transfers of ownership can take several years and some negotiations have stretched for 15 years or more depending on the complexity of the project.

The BOR is generally interested in turning over control if the agency is are not adding value to the project and the agency does not need to referee major competing water interests such as reservoirs that serve multiple states. Jackson Gulch Reservoir falls into this category.

Owning the project would give the district greater financial freedom to finance repairs in-house instead of applying for state and federal loans, said Gary Kennedy, the superintendent of the project. It would also give the district control over decisions such as installing hydro-electric generators.

The district would also no longer be subject to BOR oversight, but it would assume liability for all Jackson Gulch Reservoir structures, Hess said.

"We're looking into the process to weigh the good and the bad. That's why it takes so long to do it," said Kennedy.

If the district took control, the reservoir would continue to be a state park and water would be allocated the way it is now. It was also be subject to safety and environmental oversight from the state.

Only 27 other water projects in the country have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.

If the district chooses to go forward with the project, there will be several hurdles.

The district would have to work with all the interested parties including the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, which allowed the project to operate on Forest Service lands without charging for it.

"We have to do our due diligence," Hess said.

Some of the major hurdles to the project would be an ongoing concern with an emergency gate that would unable to be closed under specific conditions. It has been identified as a problem by the BOR for 20 years. If the title transfer was completed the state would inspect the dam.

Other hurdles include the National Environmental Policy Act compliance study and the potential historical designation of the old district office and caretaker house.

The removal of potentially hazardous materials such as asbestos and buried oil that are suspected to be on the property might also slow the process.

The federal government would split the cost of the NEPA study and the hazardous materials survey. If it was determined the BOR was responsible for putting the hazardous materials on the property, the federal government would pay for its removal.

The final major step would be an act of Congress that would authorize the BOR to make the transfer.

The district's board members will vote on a resolution to pursue the issue at their meeting held at the district's offices, May 13 at 7 p.m.