Colorado Water 2012: Craig Cotten — ‘Approximately one-half million acre-feet per year are pumped from the [San Luis] Valley’s aquifers to support agricultural, livestock, commercial and residential needs’

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Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s (Craig Cotten) Colorado Water 2012 series. From the article:

Early settlers to the Valley relied on both shallow and artesian flowing wells for household and livestock use and even today, more than 90 percent of the Valley’s domestic water supply comes from wells.

But all that groundwater use does not come without an impact to the stream systems and vested water rights within the Valley.

The State Engineer is currently working on developing rules and regulations for the administration of groundwater here in the San Luis Valley to mitigate injury caused by groundwater use. This development has been going on for several years, but the story of rules and regulations actually begins in 1969. That is the year in which the Colorado legislature passed the Water Rights Determination and Administration Act. This Act, for the first time ever, gave the State Engineer the legal authority to administer wells within the priority system, which is based upon the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation. Prior to the 1969 Act, the use of groundwater was not linked to surface water rights.

The State Engineer at that time, C.J. Kuiper, wasted no time in developing rules and regulations for various parts of the state. He first developed rules for wells within the South Platte Basin, then rules for wells within the Arkansas Basin, and then he moved on to the Rio Grande Basin.

In 1975, rules and regulations were developed for wells within the San Luis Valley. These rules mandated that all large capacity wells (greater than 50 gallons per minute) were to be shut down unless they had an augmentation plan to replace their depletions. Needless to say, the SLV well owners were less than thrilled with the new rules. Many individuals and groups objected to the rules, and so, those rules were the subject of years of debate, a 12-week trial, and finally a trip to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the State Engineer did have the authority to establish rules and regulations, but that there might be some better options rather than shutting all of the wells completely off. They encouraged the State Engineer to look at alternatives, specifically mentioning the Closed Basin Project. At that time, there was a belief that the Project could produce enough water to cover all of the depletions from the wells.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

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