County agrees on water-rights fee

Charge covers administrative cost of transferring rights to residents

La Plata County Commissioners have nailed down a fee amount for new county-managed water rights on the Animas River and Junction and Lightner creeks.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved a fee structure that includes a $190 administrative-processing fee and a fee for each increment of water used that ranges from $50 to $600 depending on the type of use and size of area to receive the water.

They established the fees for several reasons, including the need to cover the costs of administering the water program and transferring the rights to residents.

The fees were structured with the intent to “follow the market, not lead the market,” said Adam Smith, an assistant county attorney who helped craft the water-management program and fees.

The water rights came out of a 2007 settlement between the county, the Southwest Water Conservation District and the city of Durango.

The settlement allowed for water to support a whitewater park on the Animas River, but it carved out two huge water rights that are senior to the city’s allotment.

The rights aim to make water available for current and future development.

The county charges fees for the rights it manages, but the rights are one day senior to water rights co-managed by the county and the conservation district, which are free.

In order to give the water program a head start, the county will waive the water increment fees until November 2013.

“It allows us to get the program moving and look at what conditions are affecting the water market,” Smith said. “If we charge a fee today, we run the risk of driving people away from the program.”

The county will begin accepting applications for the water program in October. Over time, Smith expects people will choose to pay for a portion of the county’s more senior water rights because they come with a much lower risk of being shut off if there is a call on the river.

Even so, Smith admitted it was hard to set a fee for water rights when today the cost of water is nothing because water rights are still available on the Animas River. The market will change when the river someday becomes over appropriated, Smith said.

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