Colorado Water 2012: The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust continues to protect water resources in the San Luis Valley


Here’s this week’s installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series. Here’s an excerpt:

RiGHT grew out of the Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, who were seeking a tool for the community to help keep water in the basin. One of the co-founders, Cathy McNeil, along with her husband Mike of the McNeil Ranch and neighboring ranchers on the Rock Creek corridor south of Monte Vista were among the first to conserve their own lands with conservation easements.

They did this for a number of reasons, ranging from overall estate planning to their real desire to keep their land and water intact for agriculture and not allow it to be broken into the proverbial “ranchettes” that are fragmenting far too much of Colorado’s historic ranchlands, and thereby converting agricultural water rights to domestic and other uses.

In response to the intense pressure for land development and conversion of water from agriculture to other uses, the interest in conservation has grown steadily across Colorado. RiGHT has led the nation in providing support and incentives for private land conservation, including the lottery funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). GOCO also serves as a model for the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, with Secretary of the Interior Salazar as a key proponent of that effort. Colorado has also passed significant tax benefits to encourage voluntary conservation easements.

While RiGHT continues to work throughout the entire San Luis Valley, after the drought of 2002, protecting the Rio Grande river corridor and its water resources emerged as the clear priority for San Luis Valley residents. RiGHT found that, in contrast to the highly fragmented ownership of many of Colorado’s river corridors, there is still a substantial amount of relatively intact land along the Rio Grande corridor, much of which has senior water rights associated with it. With the help of partners at The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and many willing landowners, RiGHT launched the Rio Grande Initiative in 2007.

Since 2007, RiGHT has been able to triple the pace of conservation along the river. As of the end of 2011, more than 22,000 acres and 36 miles of the river are protected,thanks to the significant investment of many funders and landowners. A recent Trust for Public Land study indicated that every dollar invested in conservation generates six dollars of economic return in communities, meaning that those funds serve as a substantial economic driver in this rural, agricultural region.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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