When Perry Lewis left Mancos in 1985, the population was about 850 people. By 2010, that number grew to 1,300 people, and the U.S. Census now estimates Mancos’ population has grown to 1,400.
The town’s growth, along with a plan to increase development in Montezuma County and an engineering study about the effect of growth in the Dolores Valley, has Mancos town trustees concerned about its land and water.
In Dolores, a town with a projected population of 960 compared with Mancos’ 1,400, an engineering study found that 600 units was the tipping point for development in the valley before water quality becomes an issue.
If Montezuma County passes its proposed land use code, land could be subdivided into units as small as 1 acre to build new housing, straining the Mancos water supply and reducing the open space that has defined the valley for many people who live there.
“This is a serious decision that could happen quickly,” said Betsy Harrison, a Mancos trustee.
A separate study has not been done to determine the effect of development in Mancos. The engineering study on the Dolores River Valley is at least 20 years old.
Lewis, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission for Mancos, said the rest of Montezuma County is different from the Mancos Valley because it has more water.
“For Mancos, the only source of water is Jackson Lake,” Lewis said at the commission’s meeting Wednesday evening. “We are also in a severe drought and have been for a number of years.”
Board members were also reluctant to lose more farm and ranch land.
The land along Colorado Highway 184 heading past Dolores used to be farmland, with the “best soil in Montezuma County,” said commission member Catherine Seibert. But it has since been subdivided into small parcels for homes.
The remaining farmland is used mostly for alfalfa, which consumes a lot of water and is the “only thing that can tolerate the alkaline,” or clay soil, Seibert said.
New residents of Mancos purchase water from the government because they do not have water rights. But this isn’t a source of funding the town of Mancos wants to expand, Lewis said, because of the low water levels in Jackson Lake.
The lake was only 65% filled this year.
“We can’t support people with water we don’t have,” Lewis said.
County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who represents Mancos, said in a phone interview Friday the proposed land use code would allow for affordable homes for low-income workers.
“The people who work in Telluride and Durango can’t afford to live there,” he said. “I want to embrace workers in this county, and it is cheaper to buy a 1-acre than a 3-acre lot.”
Suckla said development in Mancos is likely to happen, so the town board should start thinking about water use.
“Maybe they should think about damming up the river in Mancos,” Suckla said.
Mayor Queenie Barz said she hopes the county and the towns can compromise by designating pockets of the county where 1-acre subdivisions can occur.
The Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the changes Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 9:10 a.m. at 109 W. Main St. in Cortez. The meeting will also be broadcast live on the county website where remote listeners can participate via Zoom, and it will also be available YouTube.