Western Slope Round-Up: Watering Growth

Growth and water will always be joined at the hip in Western Colorado. So, if you move to the mountains, there are two items you may have to bring: lots of money and a water tank. Although housing prices keep rising over the Divide, there’s no guarantee that water will come with the deed to the property.Real Estate Sales Still Climbing in the Mountains
The real estate slump hasn’t hit most counties on the Western Slope. A good example is Garfield County in the northwest part of the state, about 180 miles west of Denver. The county may have over $1.1 billion dollars in total dollar volume before the year is up, according to records from Land Title Guarantee Company (LTGC) in Glenwood Springs.

Garfield County includes the towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute. Tourism and second-home construction has driven the economy on the east end, while oil and gas exploration has increased the demand for housing on the west side of the county.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Countywide, total property transactions are up nearly 8 percent compared to the same period last year. Carbondale and Glenwood Springs combined accounted for 44 percent of the total transactions and 56 percent of the total dollar volume. New Castle, Silt and Rifle make up 43 percent collectively, bringing in 36 percent of the total dollar volume.

New Castle alone showed a 96 percent increase in total real estate transactions through August 2007 compared to the same period last year.

A local realtor noted that the “multi-billionaires are pushing the multi-millionaires out of Aspen, and it’s all coming down valley …with million-dollar homes being built around the Glenwood Springs area.”

No doubt the labor shortages in the Roaring Fork Valley are due in part to the high real-estate prices. A bank teller’s position won’t pay the mortgage in Carbondale where the average home price was $565,000 and who would have ever guessed the median price of a home in Silt of all places would climb to $312,000?

Rifle’s Water Source Could be on the Rocks
Speaking of Silt, there is an average of more than one gravel pit per mile between Silt and the city of Rifle to the west on Interstate 70. Gravel is in high demand in the oil and gas industry for drilling and road work, so some property owners along the Colorado River in Garfield County want to cash in on the gravel boom.

Open working gravel pits are not the most inviting scenery in any location, let alone at the entryway of a mountain west community whose economy is partly dependent upon tourism. Plus, a gravel pit can be mined for years. These issues face the Rifle City Council as they mull over the impacts of a possible 64-acre gravel pit at the I-70 entrance to town. The pit would also be precariously close to the city’s main water intake on the Colorado River.

From The Rifle Citizen-Telegram:

“Our concern is how it would affect the river flow,” said Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert. “If there’s a flood and the walls built up to protect the pit fail or erode, it could redirect the channel of the river. And if the channel of the river is re-directed, it could potentially leave our water intake high and dry.”

Council members have expressed concerns not only about the water intake, but impacts on wildlife, views and structural integrity to the bridge that crosses the river.

Since the gravel pit is located outside city limits, it is under the jurisdiction of Garfield County planning and zoning regulations. Rifle has asked the county to formulate a special master plan for gravel pit mining along the Colorado River, but so far, there has been little action.

It has been over 25 years since the Colorado River flooded the lowlands and river islands around Rifle-what are the chances of that happening again…?

La Plata’s Growth Reliant on Water
If the proposed service plan for the La Plata Archuleta Water District in the southwest part of the state comes to fruition, drinkable water would be piped to residents in a 400-square-mile area, according to an article in The Durango Herald. In the meantime, La Plata commissioners want to curtail large developments in the county unless a reliable water source is available. Many county residents now rely on wells or trucked-in water.

However, hauling water is no longer acceptable for large developments in the county La Plata County commissioners have determined when they recently approved the La Plata Archuleta Water District’s water availability standards.

The Herald explained:

Strict, new water standards approved Tuesday by La Plata County commissioners aimed to curtail growth where the water supply is inadequate but made a concession to very small subdivisions by permitting them to rely on water being trucked in.

The standards apply only to new developments; existing subdivisions are not affected.

For months, commissioners struggled over whether to allow water hauling.

Only two-lot subdivisions — or in some cases, agricultural lands being subdivided into three lots — can rely on trucked-in water. But landowners must prove no well water is available and sign a waiver that says La Plata County cannot be held responsible in the case that they cannot find a water supplier.

The proposed La Plata Archuleta $85-million-dollar project and special taxing district will still have to be approved by water district residents. 

So, if you are looking to buy a home in the country around Durango, several items should be on your checklist. Is there irrigation water for the lawn? Does the property include mineral rights — otherwise you could have a drill rig in your back yard and do you have a truck in case you have to haul water for the house?

Aspen Police Force Down
It’s a good thing that it’s off season in Aspen when few tourists are in town because the Aspen Police Department is not up to force.

First, the police chief is on paid administrative leave while the city probes sexual harassment allegations against him. The acting chief was off for two weeks for training in New Orleans.

The Aspen Times noted that two assistant chief positions and one detective seat are also available and other promotions have left some holes in law enforcement coverage.

City officials said by ski season the Aspen Police Department should be at full staff.

Positions on the police force and other city positions can include employee housing-so if you’re out of a job, you’re out of a home…and most likely out of Aspen.

Deer Taking Over Alamosa
The City of Alamosa is being inundated by mule deer — seems like the animals have taken to living in town.

City officials held a special hunt on the municipal golf course last year where the deer congregated, hoping that hunters would kill or chase the animals out. It proved unsuccessful.

From the Valley Courier:

City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said more deer were killed by automobiles the week before the hunt than by bows during the first two weeks of the hunt.

“It didn’t work,” Cherpeski told the city council this week, “and our options as a city are very, very limited.”

Cherpeski said city staff had spoken with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), and the city cannot do anything unless the division authorizes it. If the DOW were to conduct a hunt on the same property as the city hunt last year, the city would have to have a lease with DOW for that property.

He added if the deer that are in town now were eradicated, a new group would just come in because the feed is so plentiful. Some people also intentionally feed the deer which is against the law, Cherpeski said.

Maybe Alamosa should change its name to Antlers.*

*There was actually an abandoned town called Antlers between Silt and Rifle. The former post office is now a veterinary clinic.