The Mancos Board of Trustees passed a resolution Wednesday opposing suggested changes to the Montezuma County land use code in the area of the Mancos Watershed.
The proposed code would reduce minimum lot size from 3 acres to 1 acre, which could lead to development and water use amid a drought in Southwest Colorado.
The Board of Trustees resolution asks the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners to exclude the watershed from the changes.
The Mancos Watershed boundary is defined as lands tributary to the West, Middle and East Mancos River, including land tributary to Chicken Creek and Mud Creek.
“That’s our lifeline,” Trustee Janice Bryan said.
In the 3-mile radius outside Mancos, Town Administrator Heather Alzarez said there are about 25,000 acres of undeveloped land, but she is unsure how much is under conservation easement or is undevelopable.
“Even if you halve it and build 12,000 homes, can we support that with our water supply?” Alvarez said.
Travis Custer, executive director of Montezuma Land Conservancy, said there about 6,000 acres of land in conservation easements in that area.
The resolution states Mancos would hold public hearings on a proposal to eliminate the suggested code change. The resolution emphasizes the town can’t add raw water supply.
Mancos draws its water from the West Mancos River and Jackson Lake, a reservoir that was only at 65% capacity at its peak in 2020, according to Mancos Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Perry Lewis.
Trustee Cindy Simpson noted Mesa Verde National Park, the major tourism attraction for the town, would be impacted by any water shortage because it has junior water rights to the West Mancos River.
Trustee Brent McWhirter said in a meeting Sept. 23 that the Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 1988 made any water in the Mancos River filed on after 1988 junior to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Consequently, a finite amount of water is left for the Mancos Valley, according to the resolution.
County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla said the town needs to plan for growth. He suggested the town dam the West Mancos River, though the river is already dammed for Jackson Lake.
Mancos has worked to improve its water system. In 2015, the town installed a 430,000-gallon water tank and is expected to complete a $2.8 million project next year to replace a 330,000-gallon tank and upgrade the water plant.
The town provides water for rural residents who do not have water rights and are not served by the Mancos Rural Water Co. The service is not guaranteed, and Mancos residents have priority over the water supply, according to the resolution.
The Mancos Water Conservancy District passed a similar resolution.
Dolores passed a resolution to protect the Dolores River valley from the proposed changes in the code, which was accepted by county commissioners.