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Judge decides against Cherokee Metro District

On July 28, District 2 Water Court Judge Dennis Maes denied Cherokee Metropolitan District’s application to make absolute its claim to groundwater rights for wells on land owned by Wayne and Francis Booker in Ellicott.The judge’s decision had an immediate impact on Cherokee’s water supply, which provides water to the Cimarron Hills and Claremont Ranch developments, as well as some of the water for Falcon area developments, such as Woodmen Hills.(The judge’s decision) “essentially made those wells go away … the wells [have been turned] off already,” said Kip Peterson, Cherokee’s general manager.The wells, known as Cherokee wells No. 14 through 17, provided about 500-acre-feet a year of Cherokee’s water supply, Peterson said, adding that about 20 percent of his existing water supply, which is valued at $10 million, was impacted.In making his ruling, Maes cited a 1999 decree requiring Cherokee to file an application in Water Court seeking to perfect its conditional groundwater rights within “two years after the first diversion from the wells.””The facts are indisputable that the applications making absolute conditional water rights for wells 14, 15, 16, and 17 … were not filed within two years from the first diversions from the wells. The conditional water rights have been abandoned,” Judge Maes wrote in his decision.”People want answers as to why [the paperwork was not filed] and we can’t tell them because we fired the guy that was supposed to have done it,” Peterson said. “He’s been gone for a number of years, but some of these things are still coming back to cause issues.”Cherokee has already filed a motion with Judge Maes, asking him to reconsider his decision.”It’s up to us to convince him he needs to overturn it, and if that fails, our next step will be to go to the Supreme Court,” Peterson said.”It’s a rather harsh decision for somebody filing paper work late and without injury to anybody whatsoever, other than Cherokee.”Our request for going to absolute from conditional has been on [Maes’] desk for over four years. My question has always been, we had to act in a timely manner, you’d think the judicial process would have to respond in a like fashion.”Peterson said if there is an “upside” to the decision, the timing was fortunate, since it’s nearing the irrigation season. “We’re fairly confident we’re good through the balance of this year without additional (water) restrictions, but next year is going to be a challenge,” he said.”If I’ve got to find an additional 500-acre-feet of water to make up for [the loss], by next year, I guarantee we’re going to be seeing a rate increase, because water isn’t free.”The Upper Black Squirrel Creek Groundwater Management District and the Bookers opposed Cherokee’s application for absolute water rights on wells 14 through 17.UBS and the Bookers also requested that Maes dismiss Cherokee’s application for continuing diligence on a portion of Cherokee well 13 that was not made absolute by a previous Water Court decision.Maes denied that request, but Peterson said the denial doesn’t give Cherokee more water from well 13.Peterson said he hopes to meet with the UBS board before the end of the year to find out what Cherokee can do to make the board “happy.””In a number of years, if nobody pulls [water] out, some areas will become saturated and start flooding people out,” Peterson said.

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