Water pipeline construction is marching along on U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango, from County Road 225A to Bayfield, allowing rural businesses and property owners to tie in with the treated water system if they choose.
La Plata Archuleta Water District is building the pipeline as part of a large loop built along county roads 509, 510, and 225A, the district's General Manager Ed Tolen said.
The Billy Goat Saloon in Gem Village plans to tie into the pipeline, owner Ashleigh Tarkington said.
Tying into the new waterline makes long-term sense for her business, she said, because her well is old.
"It would be nice to not run out of water or have to drill a new well down the road," she said. "... It's good timing and something I'm going to do."
The district's waterline recently arrived at the Narrow Gauge Mobile Home Park east of Elmore's Corner on Highway 160, which helped firefighters douse a mobile home fire on Jan. 12. It demonstrates the need for water beyond residential use, said Ron Dent, a board member with the water district.
Work on the waterline loop started in 2013, and after facing delays obtaining permits to cross tribal and federal lands, it is expected to be complete by the end of the year, he said. The loop is central to the district's service area and will allow the district to branch off to serve new areas with water treated at the Bayfield water-treatment plant, he said.
The district was formed in 2010 by voters to serve southeast La Plata County because the shift from flood irrigation to sprinkler systems has driven changes in the aquifers, Tolen said.
"People started seeing their wells drying up," he said. The district has had continued interest from residents with failing wells.
The district has spent about $17.7 million on construction thus far, he said. The district partnered with the town of Bayfield to expand the town's water-treatment plant, which cost the district $7.97 million. It has also spent $8.7 million on pipelines and $571,490 on a bulk water fill station near Oxford that opened in June.
About 125 customers have signed up to buy water in bulk from the fill station. "We do have a lot of people south of there that have to haul their water," Tolen said.
The system is expected to eventually serve 3,600 properties, but only 85 customers are currently tied into the system. Full build-out of the system could take between 30 and 40 years. The district relies partly on property taxes, and revenue from those taxes has dropped in recent years with oil and gas declines, which is contributing to the long build-out projection, Tolen said.
While La Plata Archuleta Water District is building the pipeline that will serve Gem Village, the line will be turned over to the town of Bayfield, which will own and maintain it, because it falls inside the town's service area, Tolen said.
Connecting to La Plata Archuleta Water District's system costs $5,550, excluding the price of a service line that connects to a residence, Tolen said. If customers connect within the first year of water being available, they can receive a discount based on property taxes they previously paid to the water district.
While the district plans to serve 3,600 properties when fully built, that number could be higher depending on growth.
The district could preserve agricultural lands by allowing residential subdivisions to occur in hilly areas that don't have good wells rather than on flat agricultural property, Tolen said.
"I think it will allow more growth to occur," he said, "but I also think it will allow that growth to be planned better by providing water in areas that don't have irrigation."