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WATER IN THE LAKES - Gettin' Wetter Every Day

One of the more exciting developments that took place in 2017 involved the possibility of water permanently returning to the Great Plains Reservoirs located south of Eads in Kiowa County. This is no small bit of news, as many of the Kiowa County natives and longtime residents can testify. Not only do the 7 bodies of water, taken as a whole, combine to make the largest surface area of water to be found anywhere in the entire state of Colorado, the lakes—and the people, activities and events associated with them—did more to contribute to the recreational culture of Kiowa County than perhaps any other single thing. Without a doubt, water sports, fishing, birdwatching, hunting, camping and other outdoor pursuits provided unequalled entertainment for locals of all ages, simultaneously attracting visitors from all along the Front Range as well as Western Kansas, Northern Oklahoma and parts of the Texas Panhandle. In the words of one lifelong enthusiast, “The shores of the lakes looked like cities at night with all the campfires and bonfires. People rolled in with their campers and tents and RVs as soon as Memorial Day hit and they didn’t leave until the last bit of summer had gone.”

With that vision in mind, there was a monstrous wave of public support and downright excitement when the Independent reported the Amity Canal Company—that, in the past, has used the lakes for storage of irrigation water—announced their decision to divert water storage from John Martin Reservoir to the lakes of Kiowa County. Since then, as each day has progressed, more and more of that blue heaven can be seen flowing into those basins that had been so dry for so long. First, it was Upper Queens, then Lower Queens, then Nee Noshe and then, astonishingly, Nee Gronda.

“Why ‘astonishingly’ Nee Grondal?” some innocent newcomer might ask. The answer to that would be given in feet. Seventy feet, to be precise. At its deepest spot, Nee Gronda is 70 feet deep, which makes any water that goes in pretty hard to get back out, whether it’s done on purpose for irrigation or by nature through evaporation.

In other words, although the Amity Canal Company has yet to officially say it plans to keep water in the lakes on a permanent basis, putting water in Nee Gronda is sort of like a man giving a woman an engagement ring without specifically stating why. The intention is clear; all that’s left is making it official.

The past is prologue, so the saying goes.

Last week, as part of the regularly scheduled meeting of the Kiowa County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), there was discussion of the lakes, starting with an update from Travis Black with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A few weeks prior, Black had reported that some water might be available for purchase—a purchase that, if it could be negotiated by Kiowa County and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, might help make water in the lakes a permanent condition.

Side comment: For those who don’t know, water is a pretty complicated subject in this part of the country. Simply put, the wet stuff is lifeblood to those who rely on it for their crops and cattle, and “purchasing water” involves a whole lot more than one person giving a boatload of cash to another for some gallons of the precious stuff. There’s the matter of where the water came from—with laws that even determine what’s done with water that falls from the sky. There’s the matter of who has first rights, which can go as far back as the late 1800s. Once first rights are determined, there’s the matter of what is going to be done with the water, provided someone is fortunate enough to have the chance to buy it, with certain uses taking priority over others.

It would take a lot more paper and a lot more ink than is available here to cover that topic in the detail it deserves. Nonetheless, suffice it to say that anyone who understands water law and water rights in all their complexities deserves whatever he’s paid to explain it to those of us who foolishly think it’s just something we drink when we’re thirsty or wash off with when we’re covered in dirt.

Anyway.

At the BOCC meeting, Black reported that the water he thought was available for purchase ended up being bought by Fort Lyon to repay Amity for water they were owed. Far from being bad news, this update was received in a very favorable light since all in attendance had been trying to figure out how they could purchase the water in the first place. It was even better news when Black reported that Amity had put the water from Fort Lyon in Nee Gronda, which is where all in attendance would have wanted it to go, had they had the chance to buy it. (There’s undoubtedly a saying about a final outcome like that, but what that saying might be escapes me at the moment.)

It was further reported that Amity plans to continue to fill Nee Gronda, and it should be full by early spring. Again, there are no guarantees about permanence, at this point, but all agreed that matters seem to be going (or should I say flowing?) in the right direction.

Black was optimistic in reporting that Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues to stock the lakes with fish. This was, essentially, a follow up to an earlier report when he had stated that, if things continue to develop as they are now, within a year or so, fishing in the lakes should be to the same high quality as when the lakes were in prime condition. “Best fishing anywhere in the state” is how he described it.

For their part, the BOCC reported that county crews are continuing to clean up the area by removing dead tree branches and stumps and overgrowth of foliage. There was also discussion of building another boat ramp.

This was followed by a report on the goose migration. As is known by those familiar with the topic, the extended drought had a devastating impact on the migrating geese, yet it appears that the population is recovering. Black stated that they estimated both the Canadian and Snow Geese numbered around 100,000 this year. Barring any unforeseen events, it is not unreasonable to expect their numbers to return to around 200,000, reminiscent of the time—yet again—when the lakes were in their peak years.

The BOCC remains committed to investing energy and attention in the creation of a Kiowa County Park on the land that is adjacent to Nee Gronda and was originally purchased via a grant from GOCO. The proposed Kiowa County Park will not only support but enhance the recreational experience the lakes and surrounding wildlands will provide to those who live in and visit the county. The commissioners further believe that the plan for the area, especially as it was originally envisioned years ago when the project was first proposed, would be a tremendous opportunity to promote tourism and outdoor recreation, improving the quality of life and economic outlook for both citizens and businesses alike who reside in this fair county.

Further updates are expected in the future.

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