San Luis Valley: Water court approves rules for groundwater Subdistrict No. 1

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It’s been a long time coming but the rules designed to protect senior rights holders in the San Luis Valley from groundwater pumping (along with idling 40,000 acres of irrigated farmland) received Judge O. John Kuenhold’s blessing in a ruling released yesterday. The plan is an alternative to state imposed regulations. Here’s a report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Should it make it through an anticipated appeal to the state Supreme Court, the plan for Subdistrict No. 1 would take in roughly 174,000 acres of irrigated farmland and 3,000 irrigation wells. The plan would institute a tax on its members to pay for replacement water to compensate senior surface water users harmed by depletions exceeding 50 acre-feet per year. It also would use those proceeds to retire at least 40,000 acres over a 10-year period to restore the unconfined aquifer, a move the ruling called, “an important and courageous milestone in water development in this state.” The unconfined aquifer is the shallower of the valley’s two main bodies of groundwater and the court has found that both are connected in some degree to the area’s surface streams.

David Robbins, the lead attorney for Subdistrict No. 1, was heartened by the ruling. He pointed specifically to the judge’s decision that replacements wouldn’t go into effect until 2012. The extra year will give the subdistrict time to collect sufficient funds to meet its water replacement obligations…

The objectors gained some consolation when the judge ruled that the subdistrict must replace past depletions from well pumping, which can have an effect on surface streams for up to 20 years after the pumping has taken place. Evidence at the trial pegged the amount of injury from past depletions to amount to 48,993 acre feet through 2028. The court rejected proposals from supporters that compensation for past depletions go back only to 2005, noting that senior surface water users have gone four decades without having their rights fully and fairly protected. “This is not the time for a half-step that would be viewed by many as simply another delay tactic,” the ruling stated…

The plan would rely on the Rio Grande Decision Support System, a computer modeling system, to determine both future and past impacts from pumping. Should water users object to any components of the plan from year to year or of the Engineer Office’s handling of the plan, the court would retain jurisdiction to hear their complaints.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

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