Living Responsibly in La Plata County
La Plata County is a dynamic region with a number of unique factors to consider as you plan your move, including water restrictions, weather, wildfire, wildlife, and soil limitations. Learning about these important elements of life in Southwest Colorado will help our community thrive.
Land use in La Plata County
What can be built on a property and the type of uses that can occur on your land will depend on where the property is located and many other factors, including whether you intend to use a property for commercial, agricultural, residential or mixed use purposes. When purchasing a property or considering development in the unincorporated areas of La Plata County, you may want to discuss your ideas with the Planning Department first.
Also check out requirements for municipalities, including:
Living with DroughtA Colorado drought monitor can be found at https://climate.colostate.edu/drought_info.html.
Central Water Service –is available in some areas of the county. If development is within 400 feet from a central sewer line at the parcel boundary, La Plata County Code (Sec. 70-4) requires the property to connect to central water. There are many central water providers in the county ranging from metro districts to conservancy districts. Each has different service areas, requirements and pricing.
Wells – Well permits are issued by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, (970) 247-1845. Most well permits are issued for a single family residence, but you may also be able to obtain commercial and multi-family well permits. In areas of the County that are considered “water critical”, a well permit may not be available without a water plan for augmentation (a legal plan for obtaining a substitute water supply). In addition, many areas of the county have highly variable groundwater quantity and quality.
Soil – The soils in La Plata County are mostly poor, highly variable, expansive and potentially unstable. Low soil absorption increases flooding hazard concerns and means making considerations for proper irrigation of landscapes and agriculture. Contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office - (970) 422-3369 - or go to https://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/WebSoilSurvey.aspx to find out what type of soil you have.
Landscaping – When improving your property, select landscaping that will thrive in La Plata County. In Durango, choose plants adopted for climate zone 6a. The northern parts of the county move into zones 5 and 4. Local experts advise that many areas of microclimate exist within La Plata County therefore, 5a and 5b plants are best suited. Find out more at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/.
In addition to climate zone considerations, select plants that are “low water” as any attempts to reduce our water usage in the region is helpful. Take a field trip to the Durango Library and visit the demonstration garden to see healthy plants and learn about their origin and upkeep. More information at durangobotanicgardens.org. For a complete list of plants suited to our Rocky Mountain conditions visit https://plantselect.org/. Find out more by talking to local nurseries and the La Plata County Extension office at (970) 382-6465.
Trees – The City of Durango Urban Forestry contains helpful information along with their Tree & Shrub Guide. The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) & CSU Extension provide tree pruning guidelines as well as a lot of publications for homeowners & landowners for tree selection, planting, care, and pruning can be found at https://csfs.colostate.edu/homeowners-landowners/publications-for-homeowners-landowners/.
Weeds – Agricultural and natural resources are protected by the Colorado Noxious Weed Act (35-5.5 CRS, 2003), which requires private landowners to remove noxious weeds from their property. Find out if your weeds are noxious. For more information, contact the La Plata County Weed Office at (970) 382-6470.
Right to Farm
La Plata County is a “Right-to-Farm” county. State law and individual county policies provide that ranching, farming, or other agriculture activities and operations shall not be considered to be nuisances so long as operated in conformance with the law and in a non-negligent manner.
Agricultural irrigation – the Natural Resources Conservation Service has a local office and a wealth of information on irrigation of crops and agriculture parcels. Drip irrigation is a great way to provide the water your landscape needs without overusing water. Learn more about drip irrigation here. Another way to be water smart is by a process known as “Soak and Cycle”. This provides only the water your soil can handle, providing just enough water to support the root systems of your landscape.
Landslides - Colorado experiences many landslides each year due to steep terrain and arid soils. Heavy rain or layers of snow are capable of moving large amounts of rock and layers of soil. How can landslides impact you? Soil analysis and geologic or hazard surveys may be required prior to building depending on the location.
Most of La Plata County is at high risk for wildfire. To encourage healthy fires that restore ecosystems steps can be taken to reduce the risk to structures and reduce the rate of fire spread. Learn about reducing the risk to your home through FireWise and Colorado State Forest Service. Prepare for when the fire occurs and your home is directly impacted, or you need to be evacuated. https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/ready-set-go/. More tips are available in the Homeowners Action List and Resource Guide.
Sign up for emergency notifications through the Office of Emergency Management's Code Red program.
With a vast network of public lands, wildlife has ample habitat in which to thrive. This also means that wildlife are often on roadways, and motorists should use caution to avoid hitting deer, elk and other animals that call La Plata County home. Utilize garbage bins with locking lids that won’t allow bears to get into them and never leave out food for wildlife. Find out more at Bear Smart Durango.