Renewable Water Resources proposes to sell SLV water to Douglas County — SLV opposition organizes


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The Crestone Eagle • January 2022

by Lisa Cyriacks

RWR’s proposal to Douglas County is, for an upfront payment of $ 20 million, to build a pipeline that would bring 22,000 acre-feet of water from the San Luis Valley aquifer to the Front Range. If Douglas County agrees, the $ 20 million would come from ARPS stimulus money.

Struggling with water scarcity, climate change and depleted aquifers, residents of the San Luis Valley are opposed to the proposal. A great group has organized itself around the belief that there is no water available to move around outside of the San Luis Valley.

Protect Our Water – San Luis Valley lists as members: 15 local water districts and entities; 22 towns and villages; 22 conservation and environmental groups; and two groups of farmers. On its website, local governments opposed to RWR’s proposal include the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the towns of Crestone and Saguache.

Despite their commercial claims, RWR’s plan to export water from the San Luis Valley was not designed by the locals and will not benefit the entire valley.

RWR needs to find a client like Douglas County to move their proposal forward. The plan is based on taking water from the upper Rio Grande basin and exporting it to the Front Range. Without an identified end user for the export and sale of the water, RWR cannot file its plan with Colorado Water Court.

While the project has been in the works for some time, many questions remain unanswered.

RWR does not hold municipal water rights and RWR is expected to purchase wells and well rights before filing a lawsuit to convert irrigation water rights to municipal water rights.

Until recently, RWR executives claimed that details about project locations, schedules or costs were uncertain as they focused on securing support from the valley and filing a lawsuit in court. Colorado waters, which could take three to five years. This case would help determine whether the San Luis Valley has enough water for RWR to legally export without harming existing users.

In general, the proposal presented to the Douglas County Commissioners reveals that RWR would construct a wellfield northeast of Moffat. A pipeline would carry water north along National Highway 17, over 1,000 feet above sea level and over Poncha Pass, to two access points along the river basin. South Platte, one at Antero Reservoir and the other at Elevenmile Reservoir, both in Park County.

In addition, a $ 50 million “community fund” would be developed under the RWR proposal to assist local communities with schools, broadband or food banks, senior services, or vocational training. A separate money pool, around $ 68 million, would pay farmers and ranchers who agree to sell their water rights, known in farming circles as “buy and dry”.

These dollars will come from long-time private investors, according to Sean Duffy, spokesperson for RWR.

A deal using stimulus funds would give Douglas County access to needed water at less than half the typical rate of $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 per acre-foot, RWR spokesperson Sean said. Duffy.

“This is a very low investment opportunity for a very high quality water product,” said Duffy. “And those numbers won’t stick around forever.” Relying on the San Luis Valley supply, which RWR says would not decrease groundwater there, “largely solves the need at a significantly lower rate than the market,” he said. declared.

Former Governor Bill Owens is part of the RWR partnership. Some Douglas County officials, Duffy said, have been receptive to a proposal that “was designed very, very intentionally by people who have been in Colorado for a long time and who understand water, and why people get mad about it, and rightly so. “

Duffy also pointed out that water and the economic status quo in the valley are currently not sustainable. Critics say the RWR project will only make matters worse, while supporters argue it offers a more lasting solution to the state’s water problems.

The San Luis Valley is described as one of the driest regions in Colorado, receiving less than 9 inches of precipitation per year. In recent years, snowfall on the Sangre de Cristos has been significantly less, resulting in reduced stream flows and reduced recharge of the two aquifers below the valley floor.

The shallow open aquifer has been exploited with wells for crop irrigation for several generations and is over-appropriate. Underneath is the captive aquifer which, according to Renewable Water Resources, contains one billion acres of feet of water.

This billion acre foot estimate is strongly contested by local water managers, farmers and ranchers.

Since 2012, many farms and ranches in the valley have already made self-imposed irrigation cuts in an attempt to prevent further depletion of the shallow aquifer. A number of sub-districts have been formed as the only way for local farmers to gain more time to resolve aquifer depletion in their own way. Each sub-district has until 2031 to replenish water to a predetermined level. Failure to meet these targets could result in wells being closed by the State Engineer’s Office until the aquifer achieves this target through unimpeded recharge without pumping groundwater.

RWR’s proposal offers benefits very similar to those proposed by Stockman’s Water in 1998, a project which ultimately failed.

Stockman’s Water has offered to export at least 100,000 foot-acres per year, mitigating water loss by offering 25,000 to 50,000 foot-acres of higher water rights in return.

Gary Boyce, the manager / owner of Stockman’s Water, also pledged a $ 3 million trust fund that would be administered by Saguache County, along with environmental benefits – more riparian and wetland habitat. Renewable water resources offer the potential to add more than 3,000 acres to the Baca Wildlife Refuge located off T County Road.

Cleave Simpson met with the Douglas County Commissioners. Using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for the RWR proposal is a turn he didn’t see coming.

“I think it is unreasonable to use these federal dollars to take down one community for the benefit of another community,” he said. In addition to representing the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Senate, Simpson is the executive director of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which leads opposition to the RWR plan.

Simpson reminds us that there is a long history of legal battles over water export claims in the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande District Water Conservancy had already set money aside to challenge RWR’s proposal after the court awarded valley residents legal fees over a previous failed export case involving a developer in years ago. 1970, called American Water Development Incorporated.

RGWCD plans to challenge RWR’s proposal in the water tribunal. “We cannot see a way forward that is injury free or that would comply with the rules and regulations as they exist today,” Simpson said.

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