Brice Lee is smiling.
The approval of an escrow agreement allows the La Plata Water Conservancy District to break ground on the Longhollow Reservoir.
“It’s been 15 or 20 years,” Lee said Friday. “Things move slow, but we’re getting there.”
Groundbreaking could occur as early as next month, said Lee, president of the water district.
The reservoir will be located just east of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico state line.
It will store 5,400 acre-feet of water – 300 of them to help satisfy Colorado’s La Plata River obligation to New Mexico. The remainder is for irrigators in the arid southwest corner of La Plata County.
The water earmarked for New Mexico is a relief for Colorado, which is bound by a 1922 agreement on the division of La Plata River water.
Colorado has to give New Mexico half the water in the river as measured at Hesperus – from Feb. 15 to Dec. 1 – when the flow at the state line is below 100 cubic feet per second. During the rest of the year there are no requirements.
Colorado has a hard time making good on its obligation because the porous bed of the La Plata River and riparian vegetation suck up much of the flow.
In some years, Colorado irrigation ditches have been shut off to satisfy the agreement with New Mexico.
Longhollow Creek and drainage from Government Draw will fill the reservoir.
The project will cost about $22.5 million.
A state contribution years ago of $15 million for a never-realized irrigation project is now being tapped. Accrued interest, $2.5 million from the Colorado Water Resource and Power Development Authority and $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe will fund the project.
Engineering and design work has been paid from the escrow account.
The approval of the escrow agreement Thursday was by the Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District, which, as a potential project manager, had to show its support for the project.