Grant will help Montezuma protect water rights, homes |

Grant will help Montezuma protect water rights, homes

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

MONTEZUMA Water is about as precious a commodity in Colorado as gold once was, which is why the Town of Montezuma is so grateful for a recent grant that will help protect its water supply and bolster fire protection in the small town.The Department of Local Affairs awarded a $200,000 matching grant to the town and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue last month to purchase five new fire hydrants and a new 80,000 gallon water storage tank for Montezuma. The town will pitch in $23,000 toward the upgrade, while the fire department will contribute $75,000.Right now, the .2 square kilometer town has a 10,000 gallon water tank and two hydrants, both of which can freeze in the wintertime, making firefighting problematic.Six years ago, a house burned to the ground in Montezuma because the closest water available to drown the flames with was six miles away in Keystone, said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Berino.The existing storage tank also struggles to provide enough water for a large blaze, Berino said.

“If it’s a significant fire, 10,000 gallons will go quick,” Berino said.The fire department plans to install four of the new hydrants along Main Street and one on Webster Street.For the town of about 50 full-time residents, the added fire protection is only the beginning of why winning the grant was so key, said Montezuma Mayor Steve Hornback.”From the town’s standpoint, it’s more than just fire protection, it’s the expansion of the use of our water, I think that’s pretty important for us,” Hornback said.The updated water system will allow Montezuma to take fuller advantage of their 10 cubic feet per second water right, of which they only use about 20 to 30 acre feet per year, according to state water commissioner Scott Hummer. Hornback said that the town now will be able to expand its summer irrigation system and is also talking to the Forest Service about making water available for dust control and in the event of a wildfire in the area.

“The more we can show use the better because it’s a use it or lose it proposition,” Hornback said.Montezuma’s water right dates back to 1905, but if the town allows its allotment to go untouched, it could run the risk of losing its decree under Colorado’s water laws.Every 10 years, the state produces an abandonment list, which names water rights holders that, for one reason or another, have not taken advantage of their rights, Hummer said. Those people are notified with a letters and can appeal their place on the list. A judge will then determine whether the individual or entity had the intent to use the right, and therefore can maintain their legal ability to use water, Hummer said. When Hummer first came to the county as a full-time water commissioner in 1990, Montezuma was in danger of being on the abandonment list most likely because no one was aware that Montezuma wasn’t utilizing portions of its water right, Hummer said.In the next several years, the town became much more proactive about utilizing their water and took the necessary steps to protect their asset like constructing its current distribution system for irrigation.”It’s something that has a great deal of value to the town in their ability to potentially grow, protect what they own, and they have a real opportunity to do it hands on,” Hummer said.

Hummer said that because Montezuma has been proactive about water use that it has a small chance of ending up on the abandonment list now, and that the grant will only work in the town’s favor. Hornback said he appreciates the backing from both the fire department and the Department of Local Affairs “I think it’s a great example of how several different governing entities can get together and work together to make something positive happen,” he said. Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at

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