ADMINISTRATION OF AUGMENTATION PLANS
A common question asked by owners of a vacant lot is why they are assessed an annual fee although they have neither a well or if they have a well, it is not being utilized (pumped). There are a number of reasons why an annual fee is charged but before delving into that answer it is instructive to understand what is augmentation and why augmentation is required for the development of a parcel upon which homes may be built.
The concept of augmentation was developed with the passage of a Colorado law in 1969 called the "Adjudication and Administration Act". Among other things, this law integrated under the Colorado Doctrine of Appropriation surface water and tributary ground water so that both sources of water would be administered according to a long established system of priority, which is "first in time is first in right". In the Arkansas drainage, an over appropriated system, judicially decreed water rights are seldom allowed to divert (pump in the case of wells) if the date of first use, as decreed, is later than 1890. This system, the priority system, was designed to give surety to the owner of a decreed water right that water would be available when needed for beneficial use. However with the passage of the "1969 Act" a system was designed to allow for use of water "out of priority" if the user developed a decreed plan to replace all water consumed. This replacement plan is call an augmentation plan. An augmentation plan requires that the amount of water consumed must be placed into the stream impacted by the water use by amount, and time. This requires an elaborately engineered system which measures and records use, and replacement water from a senior water source. The structures that must be maintained include reservoirs, and stream measurement stations, as well as the acquisition and legal maintenance of the water rights utilized in the plan.
District Augmentation Plan
Augmentation plans are very expensive to obtain costing as much as several hundred thousand dollars and can take more than two years to obtain. This expense does not end with the acquisition of a decreed plan of augmentation. In 1992, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board filed and obtained for its constituents a "blanket plan of augmentation", a plan in which citizens needing augmentation could make application through the District for inclusion in its blanket plan at a greatly reduced cost. Today the cost to participate in the plan is less than a $4000.00, one time fee, plus a nominal annual fee for maintenance and storage, for the typical in-house uses including limited outside water use and approval for a well permit takes less than 90 days. Some plan participants may only require the dedication of water (augmentation) for a lot with the anticipation to construct a well or home at a later date.
Water Dedication Required
In Colorado, counties require the dedication of water before approval of building permits or approval of sub-division of property. Thus, developers and lot owners must obtain augmentation (dedicated replacement water) for each lot created upon which a dwelling may be constructed. Further, in order for the State of Colorado to issue a well permit to a lot owner, the owner must provide augmentation or be included in a court decreed augmentation plan. Regardless of whether a well is constructed or used, the District is required to reserve the replacement water, the storage of this water and continues to maintain the vessels and measurement devices for each owner of augmentation in our plans. Administrative functions include tracking ownership, reporting accounting for releases of water, as well as (in the case of constructed wells) reporting of meter readings to the State of Colorado. The cost of maintaining these reservoirs and measurement devices as well as administrative functions are defrayed by the annual assessment of maintenance and storage fees. Without the dedicated and maintained augmentation for each lot the lot could not legally exist, no well permit could be issued, and no occupancy in a dwelling could happen. Inherent in the value of the lot is the dedicated replacement water. Augmentation can be viewed as an improvement to the land/lot. Unlike traditional improvements to a lot, such as fencing and landscaping, the right to appropriate water for beneficial use, provided by inclusion in an augmentation plan, is an essential part of the initial underlying value of the parcel. In fact the parcel/lot could not have been created without the dedication of the augmentation water. Just as land improvements must be maintained in order to retain value, the maintenance of the augmentation water for delivery when needed is an integral part that makes up the value of the parcel.
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