A gentlemen's water agreement reached last month between the Town of Mancos and Mesa Verde National Park has been suspended.
Park and town officials appeared satisfied after the July 24 Mancos board of trustees meeting, when both parties verbally agreed to temporarily allow the national park to divert water out of priority from the Mancos River.
The deal was halted after outcry from concerned water rights owners. One resident said he was unsure of the agreement's authority or validity.
"It's very controversial," said retired water commissioner Bob Becker. "There are a lot of water right holders that are upset. This type of stuff leads to lawsuits, or even worse, shootings."
Mesa Verde has a 1962 junior water right off the Mancos River, but its decreed diversion is out of priority; meaning park officials should draw their water from Jackson Gulch Reservoir. The Town of Mancos has a more senior water rights claim on the Mancos River, but town officials have been drawing water from the Jackson Gulch Reservoir since April.
"I think the term 'gentlemen's agreement' is misleading, and I believe the term was one that Mesa Verde or the Division of Water initially used," said Mancos Town Administrator Andrea Phillips. "I would not have described this as an agreement. The town is just not protesting Mesa Verde's use of water out of priority."
Water resources division engineer Rege Leach told town officials at the July meeting he didn't have the authority to mandate the exchange, but said a "gentlemen's agreement" could be struck if both parties were satisfied.
"We all knew it was a gray area," Leach said of the suspended deal. "It was a mischaracterization to call it an agreement."
Leach said it was "inappropriate" to say any type of agreement had been reached between the two parties. Without proper court documents being filed, a water pact should have never been made, he added.
"All of the parties involved were uncomfortable moving forward," he said. "It's been awkward."
After the town trustee meeting, officials from the Mesa Verde National Park opted not to divert water out of priority from the Mancos River. Instead, park officials resumed taking water from the Jackson Gulch Reservoir.
Mesa Verde National Park water facility manager Frank Cope, who did not attend the July 24 meeting, said he was unaware that any type of agreement had been reached. Byron Long, the park's water treatment plant operator, attended the meeting, and argued in favor of the arrangement, citing water from the river was easier to treat.
"The gentlemen's agreement is a benefit for all," he told The Mancos Times after speaking directly to town trustees.