SAGUACHE — A group of county residents is appealing to those concerned about water issues in the county to attend an important water meeting March 12 at the Road and Bridge Building in Saguache, 305 3rd Street, to sit in on a discussion with commissioners regarding water export plans.
The meeting is styled as “a listening work session,” meaning no public comment or questions will be allowed. The guest speaker is Sean Tonner, who will host a water export proposal presentation.
“If we care about protecting our water here in the San Luis Valley, it’s important that we attend this work session to show our collective strength together in opposition,” a water group representative said last month.
The water plan, apparently in the works for the past several years, was officially announced during a Rio Grande Water Conservation meeting in Alamosa, the Valley Courier reported Dec. 7, 2018.
In a Feb. 23 speech at Adams State University, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told Valley residents: “I think we can all agree that we want to find ways to …respect water rights… It’s not the Colorado way when we remove water from a community, and in doing so remove that community’s most important economic driver, leaving the community without its “lifeblood.” This must remain our True North in water policy.
“For those of you who have worked so hard to keep the Valley’s water here in the Rio Grande Basin over the past decades, it’s of great concern that once again, today, a proposal is being developed to pump ground water from the San Luis Valley to the Front Range. Such proposals should be viewed very skeptically, from legal, economic, and ecological perspectives.
“Finally, the ecological impacts of transferring water from your aquifers during a time of extended drought and long-term drying trends should raise red flags. I am not in a position to make scientific or engineering judgments on water projects. I can say, however, that before we embark on any such project, we need to be very confident that an already stressed ecosystem won’t be harmed as a result of a short-sighted plan that creates irreversible ecological losses, along with the economic and community impacts.
“The San Luis Valley is a very special community. I am a big believer in the future of this community; please know that you have a friend in the AG’s office.
“We at the Attorney General’s Office will be working hard to do things the right way and to protect the Valley. As you evaluate proposed projects that are not designed to protect your community, please know that we will stand with you and work with you to protect your ecological and economic future.”
While some of those proposing the plan are newly arrived players, the proposal is not. The plan first emerged in the late 1980s with Maurice Strong’s Arizona Land and Cattle Co. and Stockmen’s Water. After reorganizing as AWDI, the new version of the plan was opposed and defeated in the early 1990s by the Rio Grande Water District and Valley citizens.
Originally AWDI, backed by then Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce — also owner of numerous other water rights — presented a plan to pump 200,000 acre-feet of water annually from the underground aquifer. They claimed there would be no impact on the environment or existing water users. The application was later amended to 60,000 acre-feet annually, (approximately twice the amount consumed yearly by the City of Pueblo).
The new version of the water transport plan was most recently run past Saguache County Commissioners in 2014, prior to the death of Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce. The entity then proposing the water was Sustainable Water Resources (SWR), now retitled as Renewable Water Resources (RWR). The new company is a mix of the previous organization and new members, a media advisor for the group said Tuesday.
According to a Denver Post article on Gary Boyce following his death in March 2016, Boyce’s 2014 plan pitched to Saguache commissioners was still in the works.
2014 Boyce proposal to Saguache BoCC
In late July of 2014, Boyce and members of SWR appeared before commissioners promoting a plan to export 2.5 percent of the Valley’s SWR-estimated 1.4 million acre-feet of surplus water to the Denver area via pipeline and the river system. At that time Boyce estimated $150 million would be generated from the project, which could be used for local schools and water districts. “Saguache County would get more than anyone else,” he said during that meeting.
Boyce told commissioners in the July 2014 meeting it would be up to Saguache County to put together the land needed to go into water court and apply for the appropriation. They also would need to supply the easements, rights-of-way etc. for a “one-time” price, he told commissioners.
The commissioners then sitting were Jason Anderson, Ken Anderson and Linda Joseph. They asked questions but did not seem particularly opposed to the plan. The prospect of economic gain, as was the case with marijuana development in the county, is being used to interest landholders.