Supplying water

Cistern-only homes are a Montezuma County tradition

Casey McClellan is proposing a subdivision with no water service, and at first, the plan seems perplexing. After all, most Americans, even those in the smallest towns, have long been hooked up to a potable water system. Pipelines can deliver water much more efficiently than trucks, and centralized storage tanks facilitate quality control.

Montezuma County is a little different, though, because cisterns are common in the rural areas. Not every area has access to a water system, and in many places, drilling a well is not affordable or even possible, or a water right is not available. For some residents, the ability to build affordable housing in a beautiful, isolated place is worth the inconvenience, extra expense and inherent limitations of hauling water. That is not exactly the same situation as a proposed 12-lot subdivision south of town, nor is it easy to sell to people who have always had water piped to them. Many will be bewildered by a subdivision that relies on commercial water haulers or homeowners’ pickups and trailers weighed down with water tanks. After all, this is the 21st century.

Most subdivisions offer the population density to justify running water lines, and McClellan’s does. The problem is that the main Montezuma Water Company line in that area doesn’t have the capacity to serve additional residences. It’s reasonable to assume that someday Montezuma Water will be able to provide the service, especially if and when more homes are built in the surrounding area, which will reduce the cost per customer of running a larger line.

The question, and it is one for McClellan to answer because the risk is his, is how strongly homebuyers prefer properties that are already hooked up to rural water. There are plenty of subdivision lots in Montezuma County, and many more could spring up if demand increased. Most buyers will base their decision on several factors: First, is hauling water, or contracting with a water-hauler, and then limiting their water use to the constraints of their cistern, something they are willing to do? If not, no deal, and that is fair. If they’re willing for the short term, and the price is right, how likely is it that water lines will come in, and how soon? Without a guarantee on the horizon, how stable is the availability of water and hauling services for homeowners who must depend on cisterns?

Cortez City Manager Shane Hale points out that right now, the city of Cortez has plenty of water to sell to haulers, but that will not always be so. The Colorado River drainage is experiencing a lengthy drought, and a recent study showed that water users are depleting groundwater twice as fast as they are draining reservoirs. At some point, there will not be enough water to go around, and that day may come sooner than expected if energy development grows in the area. When the demand begins to approach the limits of the supply, municipalities will prioritize their customers, and water haulers who sell to rural dwellers may be out of business. That means homeowners with cisterns may not have a dependable water supply.

And that lack will take a big bite out of a home’s value. That is a risk people in Montezuma County traditionally have been willing to take, and there is no real reason for the county to prohibit such lots from being offered. Maybe they will have even have some cachet, or maybe they will sit undeveloped. Either way, the market will be interesting to observe.