San Luis Valley: First groundwater management sub-district trial update

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Here’s a recap of the first week of the current trial, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The district and the state water division, represented by the attorney general’s office, are defending their approval of the sub-district board’s management plan while attorneys representing senior water users are contesting the plan as it is currently written.

By reducing well pumping in the closed basin area of the Valley north of the Rio Grande, the sub-district intends to provide protection and mitigation of injurious depletions to senior water rights; balance the aquifer; and ensure compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, an interstate agreement with downstream states.

The water district is presenting its witnesses first. Robbins said at the conclusion of testimony on Friday that the proponents still have four witnesses to call before the opponents begin their slate of witnesses.

Kuenhold told the attorneys on Friday that he would like to hear closing arguments in the case on the Friday of the third week, October 16, if at all possible He added he would try to render a decision in about 30 days following the trial but would not promise he could meet that ambitious of a deadline. He said he has asked visiting judges to help fill in for him so he could concentrate on the water decision…

When senior water rights attorney Tim Buchanan asked [Dr. Willem Schreüder, an expert on the Rio Grande Decision Support System computer model] if the model still had limitations, Schreüder responded, “I believe that’s true of every model.”[…]

Previously on the stand was the water district’s engineer Allen Davey who remained on the stand two days. Other witnesses this week have been the water district’s general manager Steve Vandiver and sub-district board member Carla Worley.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

In February, District Judge O. John Kuenhold sent the plan back to the board of managers for Subdistrict No. 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Kuenhold called for the inclusion of a time frame and detailed methodology for determining the depletions well pumping caused to the Rio Grande. The subdistrict’s boundaries would include 174,000 acres of irrigated land and roughly 3,000 groundwater irrigation wells. The valley could see up to five other subdistricts move forward with management plans if the court approves this one.

Attorney Tim Buchanan, who represents 11 objectors, said the revised plan left too much discretion to the state engineer and did not clearly lay out the steps the subdistrict would take. “We need implementing language,” he said. Buchanan also argued that the revised plan had backed away from previous testimony that past groundwater depletions would be replaced. Both he and Stephane Atencio, an attorney for two other objectors, took note that 40,000 acre-feet from past pumping will deplete the river over the next 20 years…

The subdistrict’s attorney, David Robbins, said the subdistrict board had felt replacing past depletions would punish those well users who voluntarily took part in the subdistrict. He added that the valley’s well users were operating within the law when those depletions were made. “There’s no logical basis to punish those who’ve acted affirmatively to solve the problem,” he said. Robbins also reiterated the plan was an attempt by users to find a workable solution instead of being subject to the groundwater rules and regulations currently being worked on by the engineer’s office. “It’s an effort to claim a right of self-governance,” he said.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

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